Looking back with Loria King: professor, filmmaker, ‘seeker’

By JESSICA KEESEE

Whenever Loria King opens her eyes, she is looking through a lens. There are the lenses of her glasses, two symmetrical circles with a thin metal line running across the center of both. They are unconventional at first glance, but so is King; she’ll be the first to say so. Then there is the still camera lens that she peered through at the age of 6 and all the way through to adulthood, photographing everything she could. Now, when King looks through a lens, she’s making a film, telling a story to, as King said, “give voice to the voiceless.”

Growing Up Southern

King, 46, an adjunct professor at the University of Tampa, was born in Cheraw, S.C. to Moses and Willa King on Aug. 20, 1966. She has two brothers, Ronnie King and John Donald King, and one sister, Karen Friend. Her family was tight-knit as she grew up, which she attributed to her Southern background.

“I’m very Southern…[I have a] very rural background,” King said. While filming a documentary on her grandfather, Hossick Jefferson, King found that her great-grandfather was a slave.

“I can reach back and touch it, it’s so close,” King said.

She moved from South Carolina to Richmond, Va. when she was 5. From an early age,  King played several instruments: the flute, clarinet, saxophone, violin, piano and guitar. When she got her first camera, however, she “dropped all the music and never looked back,” King said.

“One of my oldest brothers said, ‘Well you know, you just kind of bounce around. I don’t think you know what it is you want to do,’ and my sister said ‘Loria has always known what she wants to do. She’s always been a photographer or filmmaker. She’s always been capturing images,'” King said.

Friend, who considers King her “twin soul,” despite being three years older, remembered when her sister was first given a camera at age 6.

“The camera was around her neck from morning to bedtime with the exception of school,” Friend said. “She would take pictures of the family and friends doing any and everything. Since she did not like posed pictures, I remember her taking a picture of me sitting on the toilet, our parents kissing and nature as well as of people in the general public that caught her creative eye.”

As a teenager, King attended Open High where she received a nontraditional education, taking courses at the local college on subjects like death and dying and Wall Street, where students were given a $100 each to invest in different things.

She graduated from Open High in 1985 and delayed going to college to her parents’ dismay. She lived and worked at a ski resort and was a ski instructor while also spending her time traveling. Her parents had enough after several years of that, threatening to withdraw financial support from King until she went back to school. So she went to a library, looked up colleges and decided on Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, N.Y.

The Path to Film

It was during her undergrad while at Sarah Lawrence College that King knew she wanted to become a filmmaker. She was studying photography and exhibiting her photos in a show. The photos showed movement. Some were of poets and others of artists. As people walked by, sound would accompany the photos; photos of poets were paired with audio of them reciting their poetry.  A professor of King’s walked up to her that night and said the words that would set her on a path to film: “This mixed media stuff, no. You just need to take film.”

King studied photography initially and was introduced to the work of David Lee, Spike Lee’s brother, through a friend who had compared her work to David Lee’s. While watching the credits to a Spike Lee film, King saw that Spike Lee had interns and a new goal was set in sight.

“I was like, ‘Oh wow, I’m going to work under David Lee on a Spike Lee film,'” King said. “I wanted to do that to kind of explore if film was what I really wanted to do.”

She worked as an intern on Spike Lee’s film “Clockers” and several more Spike Lee films after that including “Girl 6,” “He Got Game,” and “Bamboozled.” During this time, she became close with David Lee, whom she now considers one of her best friends.She later worked on some Martin Scorsese films as well.

King graduated from Sarah Lawrence in 1993 and went to graduate school at Columbia to study film, graduating in 2002.

Learning from Lee

Her experience working on Spike Lee film sets taught King a lot about filmmaking and narrative, but one moment shook her, once again changing her course of path. King was working on the film 200 Cigarettes starring Kate Hudson and she remembered the set was cold and rainy. She was miserable, crying to herself and thankful for the rain which concealed her tears. The crew that surrounded her represented a bleak future.

“Even the sound guy had gone to film school with Spike Lee. Everybody had been at like NYU or Columbia or USC and all I could think was, ‘Oh my god, this is a film student grave yard,'” King said. “All these people made nothing of themselves and they’ve been in film school. I just started to cry. Is this going to be me in five years? This had a huge impact because it led me to leave New York because so many of my friends after graduating were just working to be in New York.”

King eventually left New York and lived with her sister in Maryland where she got a corporate America job working for Verizon Wireless.

“When I went to Verizon Wireless, I did something I had never done all of my life and that was to somewhat conform and become this person with straight hair who wore suits and had a particular type of car and bought a condo overlooking the lake,” King said.

She spent several years at Verizon Wireless, gaining promotions every year and finding financial stability. After a while, she had enough, asking the company that, if they were laying people off, to lay her off as well.

From Maryland, King moved to Virginia then to Atlanta where she got her first job teaching as an adjunct at the American Intercontinental University. Though she loved it, King stopped teaching at AIU a year ago. She moved to Florida to be with her family and began teaching at UT this semester as an adjunct professor, teaching documentary tradition and intro to sound, image and motion.

The Road Yet Traveled

Now, King sits in her classroom, looking far different from her years in corporate America. She’s overweight, which she accounts for her big personality. Her head is shaven and her clothes alternative, as she describes. She has no kids and she never plans to. She isn’t married; her only companions are her dogs.  She was engaged once but called it off two days before the wedding.

She plans on leaving Florida in January, either to California or Spain, she isn’t sure yet. In the meantime, she’s working on her films. She has several films in the work, one documentary on African Americans in the Ivy League and a narrative on two women based on the concept of hair holding energy, which she hopes to shoot part of in India.

She may go back to school to get her Ph.D. in social cultural anthropology, but she isn’t sure yet.

Avril Speaks, who went to graduate school with King at Columbia and who has worked on many film projects with King, said King is a “trusted colleague and dear friend” to her.

“Loria King has a wealth of knowledge not just from a filmmaking perspective but from a life perspective,” Speaks said. “She has experienced life to the fullest and there is so much more that people can learn from her. She’s probably one of the most self-aware people that I know.”

“I know that [my sister], artist and filmmaker, will have an authentic, positive and enlighten impact on this world through film and photography,” Friend said.

“I have many lives,” King said. “I am a fearless, dynamic, grounded person who is always seeking … I’m the person people remember.”

 

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