Dana's World

Filmmaker, creative polymath, force of nature: Dana Boulos is the archetypal Par Femme woman. She invites us into her LA dreamscape

In early planning meetings for our first issue, we spoke ad nauseam about all of the people who embody what we call the ‘Par Femme ethos’. There are many. Ultimately, though, we kept circling back to one in particular: Dana Boulos. A jack- of-all-trades and master of many, the LA-based Lebanese- Sudanese filmmaker and photographer is the exact kind of creative force we adore: a natural storyteller, an ever curious polymath, and an artist who puts the exploration of identity at the centre of their work.

Boulos first burst onto the creative scene in the early 2010s as part of the Ardorous, the now defunct art collective curated by Petra Collins. Operating at the forefront of so-called ‘Tumblr feminism’, the Ardorous pioneered a distinctly hyper-feminine aesthetic that for a time held an entire generation of internet users captive. It marked a turning point for artists working online, bridging a gap between digital spaces and the old-world industry establishment. The Ardorous was her training ground, but the idea of revolutionising what it ‘means’ to be an ‘artist’ was the last thing on Boulos’ mind at the time. Instead, she and Collins simply connected through a mutual appreciation of one another’s work on—throwback time—Blogspot.

‘I remember we started following each other and I just thought, This girl is so cool,’ Boulos recalls fondly. ‘When she approached me about the Ardorous it was a matter of making unique work that just posts online. When the website launched it was full of these images that were very different to everything else you’d see at the time. There’d be a girl getting her period, or shot in this very dreamy ‘girl gaze’ lens. They were images of women shot by other women, so you didn’t have the vibe of the creepy photographer—it was about giving that power over to women to explore themselves, to be vulnerable or imperfect.’

In the decade since, Boulos’ career has gone from strength to strength. She’s shot for titles including i-D, Vogue and Vice, directed multiple short films, and directed films for Gucci. She brings, as you may have already guessed, an insatiable appetite for newness and exploration to everything she creates. It’s the foundation of who she is as a person—she has an infectious energy, bubbly and curious. It’s a trait that began to surface even in the earliest iterations of her career, like when she landed a retail gig at American Apparel as a teenager.

‘I think a lot of people just thought of it as an after school job, but I always saw it as more—I was constantly moving myself up,’ she says. After being invited to a model casting and then told she was too young, she asked for a store job instead. She soon realised nobody else wanted to take on the visual merchandising part of the job and so she taught herself how to do it. When people needed help on shoots, she volunteered to assist the stylists, and then the photographers. She ended up scouting and casting models, hiring staff, auditing stores—you name it. ‘It was always a matter of, “Yeah, I’ll do it. Why not?”’ This attitude may be as close as you can get to explaining Dana Boulos in a single sentence.

After she left American Apparel, she went on to launch a hugely successful consulting business called SUPER!, then dissolved it at its peak in 2017 to pursue her dream of becoming a filmmaker full-time. ‘I’d rather make a movie and be starving and feel really proud than sell my soul to companies with no ethics or humanity,’ she said at the time. Why the hell not?

Now her sights are firmly set on directing her first feature film—it’s taking up prime real estate on her manifestation board for 2022. But that’s not to say the pandemic hasn’t shifted her relationship with work. ‘I had never sat down and just reflected before, it was always go, go, go,’ she says. ‘I’m the kind of person who doesn’t know how to go on vacation without turning it into a job—I love to create, I love working. And then during the pandemic it was almost like this huge slap in the face that said, No, that’s not how the world works. I needed to slow down and take the time to see what I was actually trying to achieve with my work. What is the real meaning there? Is it about a beautiful image or about telling a story?’

Reflection sparked conversation, with friends and fellow creatives, and soon enough she’d started her own podcast. Guests on TALK ranged from Purple editor- in-chief Olivier Zahm to poet Sonny Hall and Uncut Gems costume designer Miyako Bellizzi, with subjects like how to stay creative in lockdown, and existential questions about how we define art and what it means to live a meaningful and authentic life. ‘I mean, I did what everybody else did in the pandemic by starting a podcast,’ Boulos laughs. ‘But it was a huge outlet to be able to connect with other people during that period of isolation.’

Connection and collaboration are core to Boulos’ work. As a filmmaker, it’s an inherent part of the job, and as she moves into this more mindful post-pandemic chapter of her working life, surrounding herself with like-minded collaborators is essential. ‘I wouldn’t be here today if I didn’t work with friends who have supported me, or who I have supported,’ she says. ‘It’s like sailing a ship, you can’t just sail it by yourself.’

And really, who would want to?