WILMINGTON, Del. — It was in 2000 when Wilmington native Kiandra Parks had a chance encounter with famed filmmaker Spike Lee, unknowingly setting herself on her own course as a filmmaker.
Now, nearly 14 years after asking Lee for advice as a college senior, Parks' debut short film, "Black Girl in Paris," has been picked up by HBO and Lee is her adviser at Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.
It's almost as if her own story would make a good film. And here's the kicker: she still hasn't built up the nerve to tell her famous adviser about how they first met. After all, he looked a bit annoyed when she first approached him.
Parks, 32, a graduate of Brandywine High School and Bennett College, a historically black college for women in Greensboro, N.C., is still reeling from the worldwide screening her small, 20-minute film received when it aired on HBO for the first time earlier this month.
As one of the films selected at the annual American Black Film Festival, "Black Girl in Paris" was licensed for a year by HBO and aired multiple times as part of the cable channel's Black History Month programming.
The film, which tracks a young woman's trip of self-discovery to France, was released Feb. 15 on the channel's on demand service, HBO Go, for the first time. It will re-air on HBO Signature East at 12:10 p.m. March 3.
"It's almost like a dream," Parks said in an interview from Paris, where she is currently filming her full-length debut, "C'est La Vie." "The day it premiered on HBO, I got a call from my mom in Wilmington screaming, 'Oh my God. It's on HBO!' It finally sunk in right then because I don't have HBO here."
Before leaving Delaware for college, Parks was more interested in being an actress, singer and dancer, taking classes at the Christina Cultural Arts Center in Wilmington and performing in plays at the Delaware Theater Company.
She was a senior at Bennett College when she went on a trip with friends to visit Morehouse College, an all-male historically black college in Atlanta, where Lee earned his undergraduate degree. At the time, she had just read "Black Girl in Paris," the debut novel by writer Shay Youngblood, and had been thinking of creating a film version of the story.
When she spotted Lee after a football game, she went up to him and told him about her film idea. She asked for his guidance and his advice was unwavering: apply to the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University.
It was the film school where Lee earned his own master's degree. It is also where Lee has been artistic director and a professor of the graduate film program since 2002.
So in 2009, with her first short film under her belt, Parks was finally accepted into the Tisch School after a long application process. She is now on track to graduate in the spring after she completes filming her thesis, "C'est La Vie," a love story that she wrote and also stars in.
Parks' mother, Tinisa Parks-Hagler, made sure all of her friends and family knew that her daughter's film was premiering on HBO earlier this month, acting as a one-woman promotion department.
After all, she knows how many years of work it took for her daughter to become a filmmaker.
"This is her dream come true and she deserves it. She has always been the type of person who sets her mind to something and then there is no stopping her," says Parks-Hagler, who lives on the north side of Wilmington. "We were worried New York was going to eat her up and spit her out."
Information from: The News Journal of Wilmington, Del., http://www.delawareonline.com