Ava DuVernay: Win at Sundance 'a Big Hug'

But the first black woman to win best director at the film festival isn't resting on her laurels.

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Ava DuVernay

What do you do when you become the first African-American woman to win the best director award at the Sundance Film Festival? You keep working, says independent filmmaker Ava DuVernay, who is hell-bent on not letting the hype take her off her game.

DuVernay won the coveted award for her film Middle of Nowhere, which debuted last month at the film festival. DuVernay's love for film was cultivated by her aunt, Denise; their relationship is touched upon in her critically acclaimed movie I Will Follow. DuVernay, a former publicist, has merged her success in both professions to create an independent film-distribution company -- African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement, in order to affirm the value of black stories told by filmmakers of African descent.

DuVernay's journey from publicist to filmmaker has been admittedly nontraditional, yet it is her ability to make films based on "instinct" and surrounded by close friends whom she trusts that helps her maintain her integrity. The energy and emotion invested in DuVernay's films resonate with audiences of all backgrounds.

DuVernay is more interested in continuing to make good documentary and fictional films than she is in basking in the afterglow of her historic win. She talked to The Root about her award, what it means for other black women filmmakers and what's next for the Los Angeles native who is taking the independent-film community by storm.

The Root: What was it like when you heard your name called for best director?

Ava DuVernay: I was shocked. I can't really think of a time in my life when I've been shocked -- that word applying to me. I thought to myself, "What is happening right now?" It was such a long shot -- not even a long shot, because a long shot would assume that I was in shooting range. This wasn't even a long shot because I wasn't even there mentally -- I wasn't even in the moment because I wasn't waiting for my name to be called. I was chilling.

It was a long ceremony, and I was sitting with my editor and producer, and they're both great friends of mine. We were literally there to watch the unfolding of the awards to the popular people who were going to get it. The win was not expected -- it was a surreal moment.

I do remember the reaction in the room -- half shocked and half excited. I remember seeing the women and people of color in the audience very hyped. The women and black and brown people were on their feet applauding. Definitely everyone else was like, "Who is that and was she even at the festival?"

TR: How were you received in Los Angeles once people found out about your historic win?

AD: Try L.A. and the world. My phone was like a vibrator -- it literally started going off from the moment the announcement was made that I had won for best director. People I know from all over the world started texting, tweeting and congratulating me.