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Ayoka Chenzira: Cinema Pioneer Masters the Art of Multitasking

Many of Ayoka Chenzira’s films today are in permanent collections including MOMA and some have been translated into French and Japanese.

Historically, American parents discourage their children from being a jack of all trades for fear of becoming a master of none, says award winning and internationally acclaimed filmmaker Ayoka Chenzira (Ayo).

Yet, success in today’s world favors the ace of plenty. Fortunately, Ayo is all that and more: she’s a pioneer of African-American cinema, one of the first African Americans to teach film production in higher education, and the first African American to earn a PhD in Digital Media Arts from Georgia Tech. On November 2 at Buckhead Theatre, she will appear on the TEDxPeachtree stage as an interactive digital media artist and transmedia storyteller.

“Transmedia storytelling is a way of telling stories by using different media platforms,” says Ayo, whose body of work includes more than 25 fiction, documentary, animation and experimental films. “Parts of the story can be on a specific website while other parts can be accessed through a smartphone or on FaceBook, Instagram, etc. If you look around most people are doing more than one thing. They’re on phone while in conversation with someone else and also looking at some other screen. This is not the linear way of being in the world for which most people have been trained.”

Ayo’s background seems to have positioned her well for engaging the modern audience and embracing convergence. Citing her mother as a tremendous and supportive influence, Ayo initially majored in film because the field allowed pursuance of her own multiple curiosities.

“As a young person I was interested in many disciplines: film, music, dance, and anthropology,” she says. “I also grew up in a community that has been redefined as Colored, Negro, Black, African-American, but not always human, and some of that experience shapes my work.”

Originally from Philadelphia, Ayo went to New York City where she studied film at NYU and education at Columbia’s Teacher College. While teaching at the City College of New York, she figuratively entered “The Academy.” There, in addition to writing, producing and directing one of the first 35-mm films by an African American woman, Alma’s Rainbow, Ayo cofounded City College’s graduate program and served as its Chair of Media and Communication Arts.

In 2001 Ayo came to Atlanta when Spelman College invited her to serve as the first William and Camille Cosby Endowed Professor in the Arts. Inspired by the large number of students on Spelman’s campus making mini films with software such as iMovie, Ayo created the award winning Digital Moving Image Salon (DMIS) program. In addition to research DMIS students construct documentary films.

Like a multi-armed deity, Ayo stays true to the metaphor of mastering multiplicity. Along with her work at Spelman and lecturing around the world on topics such as the history of American cinema and cinema technology, she also has many prestigious film projects wrapping up and currently in the works. One is the Pearl Cleage Film Project for production of Cleage’s novel Babylon Sisters. Another is the production of HER. Funded by the National Endowment for the Arts and due out on computers everywhere in 2013, the speculative fiction work is part film and part interactive game.

Ayo also advocates. Her interactive art installation Ordinary On Any Given Day features Skype interviews of prolific activists and changemakers around the world sharing what they do to improve social justice.

Although Ayo holds no specific loyalty to any one region, she says she very much likes being in Atlanta. Recently, she toured Georgia Public Broadcasting (GPB). “GPB is one of the best kept secrets in Atlanta,” says Ayo. “It’s a phenomenal resource as far as equipment and what they can offer producers.”

Post written by Rachel Bailey/ Contributor

Rachel Bailey is a multi-media writer, producer and president of Penwan Communication Inc. She lives in and loves Atlanta’s Edgewood neighborhood.

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Ayoka Chenzira

Ayoka ChenziraAYOKA CHENZIRA (aka Ayo), is an award-winning filmmaker, digital media artist and educator. She is a recognized pioneer who helped create a genre of film making now identified as Black independent cinema. As one of a small handful of African American women filmmakers, Ayoka has created a rich body of work that has received popular and critical acclaim. Ayoka’s more than twenty five films span fiction, documentary, animation, performance, experimental narratives and interstitial programming for television. She is known for film making that takes risks and combines different technologies with original storytelling.

In recent years, Ayoka returned to her artistic roots to explore expanding cinema. Influenced in part by experimental film making of the ’70s and Laura Marks concept of haptic cinema, she began creating stories that expand cinema to include the moving image, the tracking of physical objects and multiple screen

In 2001, Ayoka was invited to Spelman College to serve as the first William and Camille Cosby Endowed Professor. She is currently a professor of Film and Women’s Studies and the founding director of Spelman’s Digital Moving Image Salon. She earned a Ph.D. in Digital Media at the Georgia Institute of Technology, an M.A in Education at Columbia University/Teachers College and a B.F.A. in Film at New York University.

Ayoka is currently adapting the novels of Pearl Cleage for the screen and creating a web based interactive project titled HERadventure, which combines film with interactive virtual environments. The project is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts.

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TEDxPeachtree Salutes 2012 Speaker

TEDxPeachtree Salutes 2012 Speaker

For National Poetry Month, we celebrate TEDxPeachtree 2012 speaker Ayoka Chenzira who will receive the Legacy of Leadership Award from Spelman College at the National Women of Color Conference this year. This conference recognizes dynamic women who are visionaries leading in the field of technology.

Chenzira is an educator and international award-winning video artist. She is one of the first African Americans to teach film production in higher education. A pioneer in Black independent cinema, Chenzira is one of the first African-American women to write, produce and direct a 35mm feature film, “Alma’s Rainbow,” one of Billboard Magazine’s top 40 home video rentals. She is also noted as the first African-American woman animator.

Chenzira has worked and lectured extensively on film throughout the United States, South America, and Europe; traversing the African continent collecting oral narratives from women, as well as training and mentoring emerging filmmakers. She is a recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including a Sony Innovator Award for her early work with converging film, video and computer animation.

In 2002, she was honored with the Trailblazer Award from Atlanta’s Black Women’s Film Preservation Society. Chenzira became the first African-American professor to receive a Distinguished Educator Award from technology giant and innovator Apple for her work with storytelling and digital technology in 2003.

Other speakers we are always excited about are Ayodele Heath from the 2014 TEDxPeachtree Salon and Rachel Pendergrass from 2013.

Be sure to check out our playlist and information for them below.

Ayoka Chenzira:

Ayodele Heath:





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TEDxPeachtree 2012 – Revel in the Physical

TEDxPeachtree 2012 – Revel in the Physical

Ayoka Chenzira

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