Delila Vallot is an actress, dancer, and director, born and raised in Hollywood, California. In her career, she has worked with some of the most well-known choreographers to date, including Vince Patterson, Jaime Rogers, and Debbie Allen, and has performed in such shows as Saturday Night Live, The Academy Awards, and Comic Relief, as well as films including Rent, Coyote Ugly, and The Singing Detective. She made her feature directorial debut in 2013 with the suspense thriller Tunnel Vision, starring Cristos, Ion Overman, and Scott Haze, which premiered at the Urban World Film Festival.
Can You Dig This was screened at George Washington University on Thursday, March 24th at 7pm.
DCEFF: How did you get involved in filmmaking?
DELILA VALLOT: I grew up in Hollywood, surrounded by people in music and the arts. I started acting when I was 7 and soon after began studying ballet. My junior high was an arts magnet with a great photography program and the love of photography stuck with me. I attended the arts high school which provided me with even more access to the arts. I eventually started working professionally as a performing artist for film, TV and stage. Living in Venice Beach, I had a roommate that was a writer who inspired me to get into a bit of competitive storytelling. I studied up on story and wrote my first screenplay called Urban Pill, A Musical for Your Imagination. I read every production book I could find and shot it guerrilla-style over 10 months (but never cut.) I call that experience my film school. Opting for smaller tasks, I started making experimental short films, just for fun. Down the line, a friend showed me a pretty bad trailer for a movie he wanted to make. I pitched him what I thought would be a better trailer, and after he was able to raise money from the trailer I sho, he asked me to direct the feature.
The rest is history.
DCEFF: What drew you to this particular project?
DV: My decision to make this film was largely influenced by my experience as a child, visiting my dad in South LA. I remember how uneasy and anxious I felt every time I was there — it was a huge difference from my life in Hollywood with my mom. When I found out about Ron Finley, the “gangster gardener” working to try and bring change to this neighborhood, I wanted to see if it could really work. Gardening really is one of the simplest, most basic concepts. I wanted to explore how people in tough environments can use this practice to create positive results for themselves.
DCEFF: What challenges did you face in the process of producing the project?
DV: You start with a premise, and then real life happens. I come from a narrative background, and I went into this experience completely blind as to how hard it is to make a documentary. It’s a whole different world when you’re working with actors on sets in a controlled environment. I had to learn that in the doc world, you have to plan to be surprised and go wherever your subjects choose to take you. You really do have to work yourself to the point of exhaustion and then push yourself beyond that in order to get the really good stuff. Luckily, I had the amazing producers at Delirio Films to help realize the project in its best light.
DCEFF: What made you decide to submit to DCEFF, this year?
DV: I initially heard great things about DCEFF from a fellow filmmaker and active DC community member, Lance Kramer. Then a few months later, we received an invitation. I think maybe these serendipities increase when mutual interests act with elevated purpose such as the preservation of our planet. I am excited to be a part of the 2016 festival lineup.
DCEFF: Why do you think DCEFF is important? Why should people attend?
DV: DCEFF is a hub to learn, get inspired, meet like-minded individuals and leave all the more powerful, ultimately strengthening our communities and the world.
DCEFF: Why do you feel that it’s important to preserve parks and/or protect wildlife?
DV: Destruction is a lot easier than creation and so its a challenge that all things belonging to nature be protected. I don’t think we know enough about science to assume that the natural order of things can be altered to the point of extinction without dire ramifications. Assuming we make it through these pivotal decades okay, I think how we treat the planet’s most vulnerable and/or dependent resources and species will be the mark of how we’ll be judged in the future. Plus, parks make me feel good.
DCEFF: How do you hope audiences will receive your film?
DV: I hope that the movie leaves people feeling inspired and empowered. I also hope it reminds folks that there are a lot of cities in our country that are in need of an exceptional amount of focus. People are lacking access to what I consider basic, natural rights: healthy food, minimally adequate education and safety. The film explores the idea that at least some of these challenges can be eradicated by the simple act of planting a seed. Gardens do more than just provide food — they have the power to inspire a mental and emotional shift. It’s these small shifts that lead to monumental changes down the line. And in the case of gardening in particular, the power really is in our hands. The skill is part of our DNA.
DCEFF: What’s the one takeaway that you want potential viewers to walk away with?
DV: Paradise doesn’t have to be such a distant concept! So … #plantsomeshit.
DCEFF: What’s the next project in your pipeline? Does it address the same or another environmental issue that matters to you?
DV: One of the projects I’m working on developing with a producer friend of mine is a docu-series that highlights the humanitarian aspect of how we use the space in our environment.