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Leslie  Harris

Leslie Harris

Award-Winning Filmmaker, Screenwriter & Producer


One of the first African-American women to write, direct and produce a feature film, Leslie Harris has inspired filmmakers across the globe especially women with her Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize winning feature, Just Another Girl on the I.R.T., distributed in U.S. theaters and 20 countries worldwide. As a filmmaker, Harris inspires audiences with stories often neglected on screen, like her movie about Bessie Coleman called A Dream to Fly, which was honored with a Showtime Award for Excellence. In the 1920s, Bessie Coleman was the first African-American to obtain an international pilot’s license--2 years before Amelia Earhart. This year marks the 25th Anniversary of Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. Read More >

Known for ‘original, provocative and a welcome relief from the male-dominated urban films,’ Harris’s feature has a bold unforgettable hip-hop soundtrack and heart-stopping ending. Smart, ambitious and brash, the lead is a young black woman. She is not your typical ‘good girl’ or ‘bad girl,’ but rather a complex character that deals with her ambitions, African-American culture, and disappointments with both humor and pathos. Taught in universities and colleges across the country and worldwide, the film is an inspiration to many aspiring filmmakers. It has become an internet cult favorite among black women, aspiring filmmakers and cinephiles and defined a generation for young black women in the 90s. A rare voice among the male centered film, the film has been called the Boyz in the Hood of its time.  It’s still as fresh and poignant today and has garnered a new generation of followers.

As a speaker, Leslie Harris engrosses the audience with her inspirational wisdom tenacity and perseverance. Working as an independent woman in the often male-dominated indie world of Hollywood, Leslie speaks first hand of the dedication, challenges and successes working outside the Hollywood system as an independent and fierce voice for women both in front of and behind the camera.

A devoted film lover, Leslie tagged along with her brothers to foreign films while growing up. This might seem strange for a little black girl growing up in the inner city, but Leslie loved movies. She became the first in her family to graduate college from Denison University in Ohio and studied in Aix-en- Provence, France.

After graduating from college, the aspiring filmmaker still had to pay the bills. She began working in advertising, and won American Association of Advertising Agencies, providing her with the opportunity to move to New York City, where she worked at ad agencies such as FCB, Saatchi and Saatchi, and Grey Advertising Agencies. Frustrated at the lack of opportunities to direct commercials, Leslie started her own production company, shooting commercials for neighborhood hair salons, instructional videos for the New York Public School System and a music video for Lorraine Klassen--the daughter of legendary South African singer, Thandie Klassen.  Leslie decided to quit her job and worked at Film Video Arts in exchange for access to film equipment at night. During the subway ride from her day job to her night job, Leslie wrote the screenplay Just Antoher Girl On The I.R.T. (Interbouough Rapid Transit subway line in New York City.) All of her hard work paid off, as the screenplay brought in numerous awards and grants (National Endowment for the Arts Grant, American Film Institute Filmmaker Award, New York State Council on the Arts, Jerome Foundation, Association for Independent Video and Film Grant, Brooklyn Arts Council Filmmaking Grant and Art Matters Fellowship.)

Leslie sold her feature to the distributor Miramax, and it received a theatrical release both in the US and 20 countries abroad in 1993. The feature went on to become an Official Selection at The Sundance Film Festival Feature Competition and later won The Sundance Film Festival Special Jury Prize. The film was an Official Selection in several international film festivals--including Tokyo, Toronto, Deauville--and screened at other international festivals such as Cannes and Burkina Faso. Just Another Girl on the I.R.T. received an Independent Spirit Award Nomination for Best Debut Performance by a lead actress. Taught in universities and colleges across the country and worldwide and an inspiration to many young aspiring filmmakers, Just Another Girl On The I.R.T. is not just another movie.

As a speaker, writer, director and producer, Leslie inspires us never to give up on our goals and our passions.

We all have stories to tell, whether presented in film or not, to younger generations. As Leslie Harris states, “If there is a story to tell, there is always a creative way to tell it.” Clearly, she is living proof of this statement; Harris has won awards like the IFP Gotham Award Open Palm and the ABC/Director’s Guild of America Fellowship. Leslie has also been featured in The New York Times, Washington Post, Entertainment Tonight and The Charlie Rose Show. Leslie has been a speaker at The Canadian Film Institute, Tulane University, Wellesley College, Portland State University, Columbia University, Barnard College, Leigh University, and Canadian Film Center among others and has been a full-time faculty member and adjunct at New York University Tisch School of the Arts.

Leslie’s documentary about the historical importance of black churches, Never Forget, was an official entry in the Philadelphia Film Festival. Leslie’s next feature is the sexy, provocative and very topical political comedy. I Love Cinema will star legendary filmmaker and activist, Michael Moore (Roger & Me, Fahrenheit 911 and Trump land.) Recently, Leslie’s films have been screened at SWAN (New York Women in Film and Television.) 92St Y Tribeca in New York City and Brooklyn Academy of Arts in Brooklyn, New York. Read Less ^

Speaker Videos

Representation of Black Woman in the Media

Q&A Session at the Brooklyn Academic of Music

Speech Topics

Just Another Girl on the I.R.T.

Filmmaking for Women: Telling Your Own Story Outside of Hollywood

Achieving Your Goals & Passions

Creative Tips for Independent Filmmakers

Empowering Women

Good Storytelling on Film

African Americans on Screen

Tenacity & Perseverance