Whiteness Project: Inside the White Caucasian Box is the first installment of a multiplatform investigation into how Americans who identify as “white” experience their ethnicity. Director and Producer Whitney Dow discusses the making of this collection of 21 interviews filmed in Buffalo, NY in July 2014.
What is the most rewarding aspect of being an independent filmmaker?
Whitney Dow: The most rewarding aspect of being an independent filmmaker is also the most terrifying — you are responsible for every single thing that ends up on the screen.
Which filmmaker(s) inspired you to get behind the lens?
Whitney Dow: There are too many to list, but of the filmmakers that inspired me at critical points in my career were ethnographic filmmakers Timothy Asch and Asen Balikci, and Hands on a Hard Body Director S.R. Bindler.
Could you list three films that all independent film supporters should take the time to see?
Whitney Dow: Hands on a Hard Body, which proves that story and character trump production values every time, Brother’s Keeper, because it shows just how cinematic a documentary can be, and Transformers: The Premake, a short film I saw recently that challenges the concepts of authorship, storytelling and the role of film in our hyper-connected society. I cannot describe it, but if you are interested in digital storytelling, just watch it.
What do you hope the audience comes away with after seeing your interactive project?
Whitney Dow: Simply that whether we — meaning white people — notice it or not, white ethnicity is as active and dynamic a component of white people’s daily lives as any other ethnicity or race.
Why did you decide to tackle the construct of whiteness?
Whitney Dow: When most white people think about race, myself included, they think about it as something outside of themselves. I have made a lot of films that deal with race in one form or other and they always seem to have an oppositional construct, i.e., whites vs. some other race. I believe that if I am ever really going to understand someone else’s racial experience I had to understand my own first.
What was most challenging about creating this interactive short?
Whitney Dow: Getting funding for a project on whiteness. On the creative front, I interviewed each person for about 30 minutes and use only about 90 seconds of their interview. I take the responsibility of how I represent the people participate in my projects very seriously, and I’ve tried to make sure that what I used was representational of our entire conversation, not just the most provocative thing they said during the interview.
What did you uncover about your own views on race that surprised you?
Whitney Dow: No matter how much I work on this subject and investigate my feelings about race and ethnicity, I still am confronted on a day-to-day basis by my own biases and prejudices — and I do not just mean about people who are not white. Also, I am a bit perplexed that despite my best intentions and a professional life that includes people from all walks of life, my private life is still pretty monochromatic.