Championing Humanity Through Film: An Exclusive Conversation with Editor and Producer Alex Ivany

Published on in Exclusive Interviews

In the dynamic world of filmmaking, where stories have the power to shape perspectives and provoke change, Editor and Producer, Alex Ivany, stands out as a passionate advocate for social justice. With a rich background spanning editing and producing, Alex's journey in the industry has been defined by his commitment to uplifting narratives that delve into the complexities of racial justice and social issues.

Drawing inspiration from his experiences working on acclaimed projects like Ava DuVernay's groundbreaking documentary "13th" and the series "Queen Sugar," Alex brings a unique blend of multidisciplinary skills to his craft. His most recent endeavor, the poignant 30-minute documentary "Ifine: Beauty!" underscores his dedication to amplifying voices often marginalized in mainstream media. In this exclusive interview, Alex shares his insights on the intersection of creativity and advocacy, and his unwavering pursuit of projects that resonate on a deeply personal and human level.

PH: Your work on Ava DuVernay's acclaimed projects like "13th" and "Queen Sugar" has been widely recognized. Can you share some insights into how these experiences have influenced your approach to storytelling, especially when dealing with narratives around racial justice and social issues? 

Alex Ivany: The fire inside of me to tell socially and historically important stories really ignited when I worked on “13th” and met Ava DuVernay, the trailblazing director behind the film.  I had the amazing opportunity to learn firsthand about the impact of using history and research as a powerful tool for storytellers.  It was from that time on that I knew I wanted to focus my work on racial justice, social issues, and stories that involved underrepresented communities.  

Initially, I felt the best source for that outlet was through documentaries. I quickly discovered that scripted projects could be just as meaningful while working on the series “Queen Sugar”, a show that speaks on so many social and racial issues of our time through meaningful character-driven story arcs.  

Whether it’s documentary, scripted television or film, or any medium in between, the storytelling approach has always been the same – telling these stories honestly and respectfully, while allowing the emotion to flow into the work.  I think that editing is a highly emotional sport, and when dealing with subject matters of these themes, it’s good to allow emotion to be a motivator and driving force.  

PH: "Ifine: Beauty" is your most recent project. Can you tell us about the inspiration behind this 30-minute documentary and the challenges and rewards of producing and editing a film that delves into themes of beauty?

Alex Ivany: The inspiration for “Ifine: Beauty” was made possible by the incredible kids who shared their stories with us.  I feel extremely fortunate to have worked as producer and editor on this meaningful film, and to have had such an amazing collaboration with the co-directors, Adisa Septuri and Ebony Gilbert.  

The original concept for this documentary actually came out of an idea for a theatrical play.  Adisa had started a philanthropy and arts program in Sierra Leone many years before, and when the kids in his theater program were asked what topic they wanted to write a play about, they brought up skin bleaching.  Many of the kids in the community were (or knew someone who was) bleaching their skin.  This fueled a discussion about beauty that eventually became the concept behind “Ifine: Beauty”.  

The film became something more than just a documentary, and has sparked so much amazing conversation.  It’s what the filmmakers and I have called a docu-choreopoem.  The storylines are driven by these amazing true stories.  However, there is a choreopoem weaved into the film, which includes performance, dance, and a narrative element.  The reason for this choreopoem was to state the theme of beauty.  The documentary is about five kids who are victims of the skin bleaching epidemic in Sierra Leone (and much of the world).  This is a very serious subject matter, and we wanted to metaphorically illustrate how this issue was fueled by the colonial-based definitions of beauty.  

One of the most rewarding things about this piece is that it’s a truly honest and transparent reflection.  This is not the type of documentary that a large-scale production could have captured.  Adisa had been spending time in Sierra Leone for years, and he and Ebony made the community feel comfortable with their ability to share their stories in an honest and thoughtful manner.  Outside of our talented cinematographer Antonio Cisneros, the production team was entirely Sierra Leone locals who made the experience even better.  We’ve been able to give back to them for accepting us into the community, recently hosting a filmmaking workshop in Sierra Leone, where we brought in industry professionals from various crafts.  

PH: Your creative choices often revolve around projects that explore the human condition and shed light on racial and social justice issues. How do you go about selecting projects that resonate with you on a personal and human level?

Alex Ivany: It’s just kind of this spark within me that lights up when I hear about a topic that resonates with me.  When I first heard about “13th” I knew that it would be a really special documentary and was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to get brought onboard by the editor/producer Spencer Averick.  I knew that Ava’s vision of the film was not only timely – but much needed.  

“Queen Sugar” had been running before I joined the team as an editor, and I was already a fan of everything that it had to say.  I was impressed by the material I had already seen, and the conversations the show evoked.  Ava knew that I wanted to be an editor on this show, and she opened the door and entrusted me with the amazing opportunity.  

And recently with “Ifine: Beauty” I was just drawn to the subject matter and learning about the theme of beauty, a topic that we can all resonate with because we all struggle to understand it.  

I am also drawn to projects that I’ve never seen before.  For example, I recently worked on a short live action film for Disney called “Black Belts” which is a coming-of-age story – but also a martial arts film – that involves a teenager in Compton dealing with the challenges of bullying and everyday life.  I was so drawn to this story because it’s something that you rarely see – a kung-fu film involving a black teenager as he deals with life’s hurdles.  Although it’s a light-hearted film with comedy elements, the themes touched on so many chords for me.  

PH: Editing plays a crucial role in shaping the narrative of a film. How do you approach the editing process, especially when working on documentaries that tackle sensitive subjects?

Alex Ivany: Whether it’s scripted or non-scripted, the first step as an editor is to collaborate with the filmmakers to understand what they’re trying to say.  This includes tone meetings, pre-production meetings, and any script or writing materials.  Our job as editors begins with listening and feeling, and this comes into play before we see any drop of footage.  

There’s a sort of deciphering that goes on, and it’s challenged with each step of the process. During this stage, I begin to formulate images in my mind of what I picture the footage to be, and how it will cut together.  Once the footage is received, I already have a basis for the themes, tone, and flow.  The editing process then becomes a puzzle to address this.  No matter what I cut together, I’m always circling back to the central themes and message of the story.  

With narratives of such sensitive subject matter, it can be a bit more of a challenge.  In addition to the filmmaker's vision, themes and tone, you also want to address the audience's capacity to resonate with the material.  It can be very difficult for a viewer to comfortably sit through a film with such serious subjects, and therefore we must adhere to storytelling structure, pacing, and the many tools available to us in the edit.  

This was something that we explored during the making of “Ifine: Beauty”, which at its core is a film about beauty, but is presented through the devastating subject matter of skin bleaching.  Although it’s an accumulation of different true stories about skin bleaching, we wanted to ensure that its central theme was loud and clear.  This was accomplished by combining narrative elements with the more traditional documentary approach.  We precluded and concluded the film with a sequence that we call a choreo-poem, which are abstract, narrative-driven scenes about a young girl attempting to understand her beauty, and learning about it through her ancestors.  This reassured the more uplifting and hopeful element to an otherwise serious subject matter.  It drew the audience in, letting them know right away that it is a story about beauty.  

PH: In your experience working with Ava DuVernay, a trailblazer in the industry, what valuable lessons have you learned about storytelling and filmmaking that have significantly impacted your own creative journey? 

Alex Ivany: Ava is such an incredible visionary, not just in crafting her amazing stories, but also in creating the community and path that she wants.  I’ve been incredibly fortunate to get a chance to witness her mastery and power.  I first met Ava when I was an assistant editor on “13th”.  At that time she had a very small team, but a monumental vision.  Since then, I’ve seen her grow ARRAY into one of the most socially impactful film entities in the business.  

One thing that I’ve always seen from Ava – that I hope to continue to learn from – is her relentless ability to take risks.  She takes risks with her creative choices in her work.  She takes risks with how she functions in the industry - uplifting cast and crew of color.  She takes risks in everything that she does, and I truly admire that.  She took a risk on me early in my career, and gave me the opportunity to edit my first union TV show “Cherish the Day” and then later on “Queen Sugar”.  

In terms of storytelling, Ava has taught me to have a very keen attention to detail.  In the projects I’ve worked on with her, she strives towards perfection, and that means paying attention to every moment and frame.  I know that Ava is incredibly gifted working with actors and production crews, but she also has a natural instinct for editing.  That means that as an editor, I’m always pushed to bring my best into the project.  The mentality in the edit then becomes: there are no rules.  It creates a certain freedom in the process to creatively and emotionally craft the story.  

PH: As a filmmaker committed to narratives of social justice, how do you navigate the responsibility that comes with telling stories that have the potential to bring about awareness and change?

Alex Ivany: For starters, I have to recognize that these stories aren’t mine.  I just happen to have the amazing fortune to be able to represent them on screen.  There are some subject matters that I can relate closer than others, but it’s always key that I represent them with the utmost sincerity.  There is an incredible amount of privilege that comes from being able to work in this industry, while telling sensitive stories that aren’t your own.  Of course, you want the work to spark conversation among an audience.  But I always do my best to ensure that above-all-else, the work will accurately represent the subjects.  

It’s almost like there are two different worlds.  There’s the world that is reality – in documentaries this is the world that your subject has to continue to live and endure.  And then there is the world that appears on your screen, in which we get to use visuals, music, sound, and all the fancy tools that we have as storytellers.  If those two worlds feel consistent with each other, it feels like a success.  

PH: The human condition is a central theme in your chosen projects. How do you ensure that the emotional depth and authenticity of the subjects are accurately portrayed in your editing and production work?

Alex Ivany: On many occasions, I’m working with footage that spans across different times, locations, and characters.  If I can pave together a story in the edit that represents the real world accordingly, I feel that it’s an achievement.  There is a lot of collaboration that goes into this.  Throughout the process I’m constantly checking to ensure that I’m maintaining authenticity in the edit.  The filmmakers who are working alongside me are doing the same, as are sound people, composers, colorists and the other crafts involved in the process.  And oftentimes – especially with sensitive subject matters – we do test screenings in front of an audience to get feedback on how the material is coming across.  If the world that an audience experiences naturally reflects reality, we are hitting the right notes.  If the world we’ve represented is met with skepticism from the audience, we know that we need to revert back to the edit and seek where we went wrong.  

PH: Can you share any specific challenges you faced while working on projects that tackle racial and social justice issues, and how you approached overcoming them creatively? 

Alex Ivany: At its core, “Ifine: Beauty” is a film that challenges the colonial aspects of beauty.  When we tested it in front of a small audience, some people understood immediately, while others were unclear.  They wanted to know why these children were bleaching their skins.  We then realized something that was so obvious to us, wasn’t as transparent to an audience unfamiliar with the subject.  

We discovered a poignant moment in the footage where one of the girls is dancing with her friends, filming a TikTok video on her phone.  We felt this image was very important to the audience, especially an American audience.  A lot of people in this country have a false perception of Africa as some distant and disconnected land.  We felt it was potent to add that moment to the film, which showed that they are connected to social media (and all the beauty standards that come with it).  And because the kids shared that poignant moment on camera with us, we felt it was authentic and specific to their reality. 

One of the main challenges to overcome when working on these projects often comes to getting the project seen.  For example, with “Ifine: Beauty” the creative process was mostly organic, but the struggle has been for the film to gain the exposure that we feel it deserves.  As a film that challenges the colonial construct of beauty, it can often be difficult to get it in front of all audiences.  We’ve noticed that the film has been widely viewed in BIPOC film festivals and awards, but haven’t been able to share the message with a more mainstream audience.  The film was awarded at the Pan African Film Festival and was nominated for Best Documentary at the African Movie Academy Awards.  Just recently it was nominated for an NAACP Image Award.  While the film has widely been accepted in BIPOC communities, it has yet to reach a distribution deal at this point in time – likely because it isn’t a “high selling” subject matter.  While it’s beautiful to see our community embracing this film, another part of the reason we made the film was also to educate people from outside of this community, and hopefully show them a different reality.  

PH: What role do you believe filmmakers and storytellers play in shaping conversations around racial justice, and how does that influence your approach when working on such projects? 

Alex Ivany: There has long been a racial disparity when you look at the film and television landscape.  The numbers back it up, but it’s already pretty easy to see.  And it isn’t just a racial disparity regarding who is getting opportunities to tell these stories, but also about the content of these stories.  That’s why I applaud the bold filmmakers like Ava DuVernay and other filmmakers who explore themes of race, gender, and social justice.  

The artform of film and television is fairly new in the scope of art history.  People have been making art for thousands of years before it, and art has always been tied to society and culture.  If not for art, much of our histories and viewpoints would have been largely erased.  Art not only moves forward our current day evolution as humans, but also uncovers stories to our future selves.  

Filmmakers are just artists.  We are a unique breed of artists, in that we pull from a variety of mediums – technology, science, history, journalism – we use all the tools at our disposal.  But at the end of the day, we are just artists who need to say something.  Whether our art makes the world a better place will stand the tests of time.  

PH: Looking ahead, are there specific themes or stories you are eager to explore in your future projects, and what impact do you hope your work will have on audiences and societal conversations?

Alex Ivany: I definitely want my work to contain substance and power, and hopefully continue to spark societal conversation.  Projects like “Ifine: Beauty” are an example of this.  The filmmakers and I have discussed developing Ifine into a longer-form project, and I’d like to continue to explore this theme of beauty.  I’m drawn to projects like this, which dive deep into the effects that colonialism has historically had on various cultures and communities.  My goal as a filmmaker is not just to entertain, but also to say something in the world.  I want the stories that I highlight to be inspired and fueled in power.  I also want to make sure to uplift underrepresented communities while doing so.  As Ava says, “If your dream only includes you, it’s too small.” I stand by these words with the specific themes that I want to explore in my work, and the types of individuals I want to collaborate with.  


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