Meet Cyan Shreve, the winner of the Focus Features Innovation and Creativity Award

A Q&A with the writer and director of the original short film, Sincerely, Jonah

This year, the Focus Features Innovation and Creativity Award went to Cyan Shreve for Sincerely, Jonah, her thesis film for Howard University. Sincerely, Jonah is an experimental underdog story that explores fatherhood and marriage.

We asked Shreve to tell us a little about the inspiration for her film, the artists who influenced her, and her plans for the future.

Follow her on Instagram: @cyan.mireille

Cyan Shreve's award-winning short film, Sincerely, Jonah

How would you describe Sincerely, Jonah?

What would you do if today was your last day? What kind of thoughts would you have? Would it change how you see others? Would it change how you see yourself? Sincerely, Jonah is an experimental underdog story that explores how 30-year-old Jonah navigates these questions in the midst of fatherhood and marriage.

Filmmaker Cyan Shreve

Where did the idea for Sincerely, Jonah come from?

I met a man who was torn between moving to a new city or staying in his daughter’s life. It reminded me of my own father and the obstacles he faced to be present in my life. The man asked me what he should do, and I said, “Fight.” That conversation stayed with me as I visited an art museum. There, I saw a painting by Pablo Picasso, which reminded me of his quote, “Learn the rules like a pro so you can break them like an artist.” It was then that I decided I wanted to make an experimental film about the resilience of Black fathers.

How did you find your cast?

I found my cast through and word of mouth.

What in the final product most captures what you saw in your mind when you first imagined the film?

There is a sequence in the film where Jonah talks about his daughter, her love of bees, and his distress at telling her about his diagnosis. I love how Té Speight’s expression captures Jonah’s genuine love and awe for his daughter. Additionally, I love how the music captures her playful innocence and gradually becomes more emotional as it mirrors the depth of his love and his heartbreak.

Sincerely, Jonah

What was the biggest lesson learned working on Sincerely, Jonah?

The biggest lesson learned is that when one door closes, a window will open. During this production, we faced many obstacles. For example, the initial lead actor canceled the week of shooting, his understudy canceled a few days later, my car broke down the first day of shooting, another actress canceled an hour before shooting, a location canceled on us as soon as the crew got there, and half the footage was either missing or compromised after the first weekend of shooting. Nevertheless, I found that whenever something major like that would go wrong, a solution was always around the corner.

As an emerging filmmaker, who are your influences (filmmakers, artists, writers, or friends)?

My main influences are Alfred Hitchcock, Jordan Peele, Gina Prince-Bythewood, Ava DuVernay, Donald Glover, Ryan Coogler, Pablo Picasso, Justin Copeland, and Shonda Rhimes.

Sincerely, Jonah

What was the first film you saw that made you want to be a filmmaker and why?

James Cameron’s Avatar was the first film that made me want to make films because seeing it in 3D IMAX for the first time made me feel immersed in the world of the characters.

Are you working on a feature film? What is it about?

I am currently writing an animated children’s feature film. It’s about a young African princess who seeks to find a cure for her father after a cursed illness falls over her entire kingdom.