Atlanta native Andrew Litten is a 23-year old filmmaker whose collaborators and experiences are as impressive as the films he creates. From music videos and tour footage, to more extensive documentaries like his newly released Atlanta from the Ashes, Litten’s portfolio is vast and ever-evolving. We sat down with him in Atlanta’s colorful Fourth Ward and talked about how growing up in the south has informed his work, working with Big K.R.IT. and more.
Let’s talk about Atlanta. What was it like growing up here? How did it shape the work you do?
I would say it shaped it 100% and I didn’t really notice it until I moved away, honestly. I was basically raised here and so I knew Atlanta as my home for so long. It wasn’t until I started coming back to visit that I began noticing how lucky I was to grow up here because the culture is so open and diverse. Even in LA, it is culturally diverse, but not in the way Atlanta is. I think that coming back, I just realized those things a lot more and they totally filtered into my work outside of Atlanta; there’s just a character here that you’re not going to find anywhere else. And people are actually very interested in having a conversation – you know what I mean? Just walking down the street everyone’s super friendly. It’s a big melting pot and a great place to cultivate a creative style, and if you don’t want to go the traditional route of going to an art school or film school, I think Atlanta is a really good city to just learn in. There’re no rules and there’s not the big eyes on you as if you were filmmaking in New York or something. For me, filming around here was my film school basically. My first job I had was right down the street….
Was that Motion Family?
No it was at ABV Agency and Gallery. A really dope painter in Atlanta, Greg Mike, owns the agency and that was my first job. Working there and making shitty videos for like three years, like really really bad videos (laughs) – I don’t know, that was just my film school.
When was the last time you watched those?
You know what, it’s kind of funny – I actually went back and watched one today.
It’s good to look back on where you were to appreciate where you’re at.
Exactly. I just think Atlanta is like really free-flowing and you can really like explore and do whatever. I definitely wish I had taken advantage of that more before I moved away.
What you were doing at Motion Family and what it was like working with Big K.R.I.T./going on tour with him to film “Steps” – the doc you made about your time on the road together?
I worked for Motion Family for maybe two years and I mean much love to all those guys. Diwang, David KA, and Sebas are the three directors that make Motion Family and they just let me do basically whatever I wanted for all the projects we worked on. I was editing for them mostly. Anyways I met up at K.R.I.T.’s studio on the Westside of Atlanta, and we hit it off instantly. About 5 months after I met K.R.I.T., he asked me to go on tour with him.
How was being on tour?
It was three months, it was a really long tour. We were opening for Macklemore and Talib Kwali was with us as well. I mean just being a kid who barely knew how to use a camera and getting thrown into that was probably like the best thing that could’ve happened to me. K.R.I.T. is still to this day probably the best collaborator I’ve ever worked with. He’s very open minded. He’s very attentive to how people perceive him and his music, but at the same time he’s very open to collaboration.
When you create and complete documentaries, do you usually have a vision for where you want them to live?
You know, I’ve been thinking more about that recently. A lot of times after I finish a doc, I’m usually so mentally drained that I’m just thinking about the next project at that point. Church’s Chicken funded Atlanta from the Ashes, and they’re pretty cool about getting behind it and paying for everything, which is rad, because I do a lot of commercial work for them. It’s a weird fit but they’re down. We’ve been making documentaries for them for like a year now. The branding is never like heavy handed, and we do different cities around the U.S. like Church’s loves Atlanta, Church’s loves Compton. Honestly, Church’s has been super helpful with brainstorming how we can keep these things alive after they drop and make them a bit more timeless. For the Compton doc we did last year, we shot with the Boys and Girls Club. After the doc came out, we ended up giving a bunch of camera gear to the Club. I like doing things like that, where you can give back to the people who devoted their time to the doc and I think that’s super important. As far as where the doc goes, I don’t really care what they do with it as long as it gets to live on my Vimeo and I have the freedom to make it and use it how I want.
There seems to be a growing conversation about Atlanta being the “new cultural epicenter” of the South, although from spending time here it’s hard to imagine that it ever wasn’t. In your documentary that we got to peep, it seems like you really touch on that. How do you think the history of this city plays into to this current cultural resurgence? How important is the youth in fueling that?
Being from Atlanta I think a lot of people that are from here or that have lived here for a long period of time are pretty on the fence about all the developing that’s happening. That was the initial problem we wanted to try and solve with the doc. That’s how we arrived at the youth being this vessel to continue the legacy of Atlanta. If anything I hope that Atlanta from the Ashes instills inspiration and motivation in kids to get sort of face to face with the past leaders of the city because they’re all regular people just the way you and me and everyone else is, recognizing what’s happened here to move forward. I think you just have to acknowledge all the history here. It’s probably the only major city in the US that’s run by African Americans. Always. Always has been, always will be. And a lot of big developers coming in want to change that. And so you just can’t let that shit happen. One line in there that has always stood out to me was Pela McDaniel’s – the man we interviewed who’s the curator of African American collections at Emory. He says something to the effect of “Atlanta is for the strivers and African Americans who stood to the test of time.” And to me, that’s kind of Atlanta in a nutshell, that’s really what defines it.
WATCH “ATLANTA FROM THE ASHES” HERE.
WORDS / CHEYENNE DOERR
PHOTOS / MALACHI LEE
VIDEO / MATT WINKLER