This dynamic duo from Richmond Virginia paint a poignant and relevant picture regarding the dark history of the South in An Outrage. The film is unflinching in its attempt to understand the violent act of lynching and how it continued in the postbellum South. Read more about Hannah Ayers & Lance Warren below.
What is your connection to the South?
We were born and raised in Virginia, with family roots in Tennessee and North Carolina. We studied and lived elsewhere in the United States and internationally, and recently spent four years producing media and programs for nonprofits in New York City. In 2014, we returned to Virginia to take our documentary work full-time in our adopted hometown of Richmond. And because we grew up in the South, and studied history in college, we’ve dedicated our filmmaking to telling stories of injustice and inequality.
Where did you get your inspiration for this work?
Starting in 2010, Lance began working with K-12 history teachers, planning teacher training workshops with historians he selected from across the country. Through these efforts, and later through an online master’s degree program in history that Hannah and Lance started with a nonprofit in New York, we came to see that history teachers are on the front lines of historical memory-making. They’re the folks who teach us what we remember about the past. Through our work with history teachers and professors, we also heard lots of memorable lectures—including many that intersected with the history of lynching. Bit by bit, we learned about an era of racial terror little known today. As we reflected on the ugliness of this history, the lack of common knowledge about its widespread nature, and the potential for history teachers to address this void in our historical memory, we knew we had work to do. And when we could find no contemporary piece of media presenting the complex and disturbing history of lynching, we were compelled to make one ourselves.
How did you start making films?
We stumbled into filmmaking. While underemployed and seeking new challenges in 2009—only a few months after we started dating!—we had the chance to direct a documentary in Hannah’s hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia. Using borrowed gear, bootleg software, and endless study of blogs and YouTube videos, we made a film that premiered at the 2010 Virginia Film Festival and won the Audience Award for Short Documentary. We had fun with the project, which drew on long-held interests in history, storytelling, and media—and upon moving to New York in 2010, began honing our craft while producing media for universities and nonprofits. Eight years later, we’re happily married, and fully committed to a career in filmmaking that we didn’t see coming.
Did anything interesting or funny happen on set during the shooting?
With two production road trips last summer adding up to more than 5,000 miles, all sorts of things could have happened. We were mostly lucky, but there was this one day… Just before filming an interview in Atlanta, we heard a high-pitched, metallic sound streaming through our headphones. Barely audible, it was nonetheless stubborn. We hit the sidewalk in search of the source, turning down one alley, then another, and ultimately walking through a thicket of trees to find ourselves staring at the back of a metalworking shop where an artist was making a sword. We begged him off the task for a while, parted with some cash, and wound up filming one of the best half-hour stretches of footage we captured on the whole journey.
What do you look forward to the most during Indie Grits?
We’re eager to meet the staff and volunteers of Indie Grits, as well as the other filmmakers in attendance. We’ve attended a lot of festivals, and Indie Grits sticks out in its youthful energy and creative spirit. We got a chance to connect with Auntie Bellum last year, so we already have a sense that Columbia has a lot of innovative, progressive folks in its midst. Also, we briefly stopped in Columbia during our production trip last summer and we’re already looking forward to returning to some coffee and dining establishments. We’re looking at you, Wired Goat Vista.
Why should someone see your film?
By now, we all know that the roots of racial tension run deep. But we may not understand why. “An Outrage” does much to answer this question, revealing not only the long-hidden history of lynching, but also the culture of fear, the ambivalence over the value of black lives, and the persistence of violence that has led so many to demand an end to the status quo. We can only reach a better future by working through our past. “An Outrage” is a hub for action, a starting point for some of the many conversations we need to share.