Filmmaker Talks Bumming Cigarettes

As the short film makes its debut at QFest, we talk to the director about HIV/AIDS in the black community

Tiona M. talks HIV, AIDS and Bumming Cigarettes (courtesy of the filmmaker)

While waiting for the results of an HIV test, Vee (Ali Hatch) bums a cigarette from Jimmy (James Tolbert), a kind of “mayor of the streets.” But what starts out as a simple interaction turns into a reflection between two strangers in Bumming Cigarettes.

Tiona M.’s film – written, directed and shot in Philly – not only explores what it means when strangers meet at a crossroads, but deals with the impact of HIV/AIDS on the black LGBT community. It even features a few familiar cameos in the film, including Vincent Du (who plays an HIV counselor) as well as Kaamilah Milton, Gary Kramer, Peaches Jones, Zerandrian Morris, Katrina Clark, among other local “non-actors.”

Tiona M. (she won an audience award for best documentary in 2008 for black./womyn.: conversations with lesbians of African descent) opened up about the short film as she gets ready to premiere it at QFest. She not only tells us about her cinematic heroes, but how the main character reflects her own life. She’s currently working on a full-length feature documentary – The Untitled Black Lesbian Elder Project.

What inspired the film?

Last year was the 30th anniversary of the discovery of the HIV/AIDS virus and I also turned 30 last year, so every year of my life has paralleled with this anniversary. I wanted to create a film that would target the black lesbian community to be more aware of their status in regards to STDs. There were a ton of campaigns last year that targeted everyone except the black lesbian community… all the while there was new reports which prove that black women are the highest rising demographic for contracting HIV. There have been the times when I’ve gone to get health checkups, and when I’ve always been told that I’m not “high risk” because I am a lesbian. I wanted to challenge that a bit through the use of narrative film.

Did you base the short film on any experiences from your own life?

Yeah, I pretty much went through what the main character Vee goes through within the film. I even went to Washington West to get my test done.

What message do you hope to convey to the LGBT community?

The need to have a real and honest dialogue between black gay men and lesbians in regards to how HIV/AIDS has affected our communities, and how we can work together to work against stigma and provide better space for members of our community who live with the disease.

How long did it take to film Bumming Cigarettes?

We shot the film over the course of three days at the end of October 2011.

Are there filmmakers you look up to?

Hou Hsiao-Hsien, Kim Ki Duk, Charles Burnett, Kevin Jerome Everson, and So Yong Kim are a few that come to mind at the moment. There are many more.

Do you live in Philly?

Yes. I’ve been here for six years now.

Here’s more from the director, including details about where the film was shot in the Gayborhood:

Bumming Cigarettes is being shown with Black, Blues and Other Hues on July 20 (7:15 p.m.) at the Ritz at the Bourse.