Why Dave Chappelle is backing this ‘Star Wars’ and ‘True Blood’ star's new film

We sat down with actress Janina Gavankar before exclusive screening of ‘Blindspotting’ at the Yellow Art Theatre. Dave Chappelle popped in to tell us why he is helping to support the film.

Janina Gavankar has her hands in many pots — acting, writing, technology and gaming, orchestrating percussion — to name a few. Earlier this summer, however, she had her hands full of fresh water from the Yellow Spring — Yellow Spring's namesake.

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“It was better than Evian. It was so clean. I wish I had a water bottle so I could’ve filled it up. That was the first thing I did (in Yellow Springs) and it made me really happy,” Gavankar said.

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Credit: Michael Loccisano

Credit: Michael Loccisano

Gavankar, born in Joliet, Illinois, is an American actress and musician best known for her roles as Iden Versio in “Star Wars Battlefront II,” Luna Garza in “True Blood,” Shiva in “The League” and her most recent role as Val in “Blindspotting.”

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Guided by her good friend — comedian and Yellow Springs resident Dave Chappelle — the famed duo also spent the day sipping nitros at Dino's Coffee and gabbing about the exclusive screening of Blindspotting they would attend that evening at the Little Art Theatre.

That night, Chappelle hosted a sold-out, pre-release screening of “Blindspotting” with Gavankar in the small Yellow Springs theater that seats just over 110 people.

The film — “a story about friendship and the intersection of race and class set against the backdrop of Oakland,” according to the movie’s site —  was an official selection of the Sundance Film Festival and is being released today, July 20, only to a select number of theaters. Its official release date is Friday, July 27.

“It’s bad ass Janine,” said Chappelle as he joined his friend during an interview with Dayton.com at the Mills Park Hotel in Yellow Springs. “One of the things that this movie she’s in deals with is how it’s traumatic to be a witness to that (police shooting). It’s a great movie. As cathartic in the way that art is. It resonated and I think there’s people around here, in this town in particular, that will be very moved by this.” 

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Extremely and — “unfortunately” — topical and timely, “Blindspotting” was written and produced by high school best friends whose own experiences and those of their closest friends, shaped the movie. Although quick to say the movie was not autobiographical to its directors, Gavankar said this was a very special project that she was passionate about bringing to Yellow Springs for a special screening.

We sat down with Gavankar to ask her why she is “so incredibly moved” to be showing her film in our area:

Why did you choose Yellow Springs for this exclusive screening of your film that hasn’t even been released, yet?

GAVANKAR: "Dave saw it at a private screening I had, and he said he wanted to bring it here. Being from the Midwest, Joliett, Illinois, I grew up without access to films like this (independent) either. It means a lot to me to be able to bring it here. Dave made sure this happened ... Because Yellow Springs is not a place that is necessarily going to have access to this film unless we're lucky enough that it becomes a 'hit' this weekend. This is an indie film; it was made from very little money, in a very short amount of time. That means we don't have a huge marketing budget and we don't get to just get shot into a million theaters.

Why are you so excited about this screening in particular? 

GAVANKAR: "I'm excited to go. I looked up photos online and I heard it was about 120 seats and it's cozy and I'm just so excited. I'm more excited about this screening than some of the New York screenings that we've had. ... It's emotional for me. I'm just so moved by the fact that this community was so receptive to even having it for one night. ... Also, again, I'm from the Midwest; it's a whole culture.

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What part of who Janina is as a person comes through in Val, the most?

GAVANKAR: "What I decided was to attach my personal experience as a child of immigrants to Val. There's an unsaid understanding to uphold the sacrifices that our parents made just by giving us this life. ... Ironically, the room of the director and the two producers were either immigrants or children of immigrants. So it was a very emotional meeting. That was really what I wanted to infuse her with.ye

As an actor, I’m not actually interested in playing anybody close to me. What was the point of being an actor if I wasn’t going to turn into other people? But ironically, in this case, I think this character might be closer to me than any other character I’ve played thus far.”

Credit: Sarah Franks

Credit: Sarah Franks

Can you explain the meaning of “Blindspotting”? 

GAVANKAR: Rubin's Vase-- have you seen this figure of a vase, but also two faces? That concept is, my character comes up with these mnemonic devices to remember these psych terms she's learning, so she calls it blind-spotting, because you have a blind spot for one thing. Nobody is just one thing. But when you look at a person or photo, your brain is trained to see one thing first. Even though there's more than one thing. So that's the concept and that is what we hope everybody does when they look at this film and watch it. We hope that you look further. I have seen this thing over 10 times and I still catch things that I never caught before. It's a really special project.

With you having so many diverse talents, where did this fire come from that has made you have so many passions?

GAVANKAR: Boredom. I have no chill. I have zero chill. I'm one of these people that gets anxious with 15 minutes of free time. So I have to put it into something or I'll go crazy. I'm sure many people identify with that. Being an artist, making things, is my way of communicating myself.

Credit: Dimitrios Kambouris

Credit: Dimitrios Kambouris

What would you say to younger girls who don’t know where to focus their passions?

GAVANKAR: Diversify. Try many things with all of your might. Because at some point, you're going to figure out where you're needed. It's not just about what you're good at, but it's where you're needed. And that's why so many people end up in different careers than what they studied. That's kind of the dream is not just figuring out what you're passionate about, but where you're needed in this world and where you can help in the most distilled way. Nobody is stuck with anything. ... You just better be about it.

Credit: Rich Polk

Credit: Rich Polk

What is something people don’t know about Janina? 

GAVANKAR: "I really wanted to be a blue man. I hung out with them last night by the way. I played with the drummer. It was amazing. I wanted to be a blue man when I grew up.

Also, I’m a writer. People sometimes get confused when they see a female actor. They get confused. What do you mean you’re also a writer?  What do you mean you’re also a musician? But nobody’s just one thing. Yeah, people don’t really know that part yet, but I hope to earn the right to have everybody know that first. Just showing up to act is something I’ll do as long as people ask me to do it. But it’s time to evolve.”

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