When you speak to Kerri Garrett, it’s immediately obvious that she’s a jack-of-all-trades. You take one look at her website or Instagram feed and can’t help but notice that not only is she working a lot, but she seems to be working in several different disciplines all at once. She’s also always on the go, and even gave this interview from a parked car on her way to Ohio, where she grew up.

Kerri knew from a young age that she wanted to be an actress. “My first dream was to, for one, be a Disney Channel star. I just knew I was gonna be a Cheetah Girl,” she told AFPZine, laughing. 

Garrett got her first agent by cold emailing agencies at 11 years old and started out working in commercials. However, she quickly realized that not all sets were welcoming. On an early job, she arrived only to discover that the makeup artist didn’t have the correct makeup for her skin tone. This and other early “career heartbreaks,” as she labels them, forced Garrett to become fiercely independent and resourceful. In high school, she took a break from working on sets; instead of seeing this as a step backwards, she focused her energy on dance, which she cut her teeth on when she was three years old.

It was around this time that she began taking regular family trips to Atlanta. However, she didn’t see these trips as vacations; they were opportunities for her to discover Atlanta’s arts, acting, and film production scenes. She enrolled in intensive month-long dance and acting camps, often with Atlanta Workshop Players. When it came time to decide where she wanted to go to college, she felt she had two choices: Los Angeles or Atlanta. She thought LA might be better for honing her craft, but Atlanta would give her the chance to immerse herself in culture. A road trip to tour HBCUs – a family tradition – ultimately cemented her decision.

“I remember going down to Clark in Atlanta. I was just like, ‘Wow, I could really learn my craft from my people,’” she remembered. “Atlanta was still where I still had family…it was still close to home, and it was just rich in Black arts that I hadn't really gotten exposed to, and hadn’t learned from.” In the end, she chose to enroll in Clark Atlanta University as an undergraduate student.

Since arriving in Atlanta, Garrett’s ambitions have skyrocketed. She’s a true multi-hyphenate: a dancer-actress-director-producer-model. In addition to allowing her to take on a wide array of projects, she sees these different talents as interconnected, and film as a way to bring some of these threads together.

“I always say that at the core of all the crafts that I do, all the disciplines I do, I'm really just a storyteller. And, however those stories come to me, they show up in different ways that I bring into this reality. So a story might come to me and I see it as a dance performance, but another story might come to me and I really see that as a film, but all of them are able to connect the things that I love. That's really why I love film, because I feel like it's the glue between acting – or at least I'm able to find the glue and the connection between acting and dancing and all the other things that I do.”

She hasn’t always seen this desire to work in multiple mediums as a good thing, and has gotten a lot of pressure to focus on one discipline. Letting go of that pressure allowed her to find an artistic practice that works for her.

“I understand with myself that there are times where I might be dancing more than I'm acting, or I might be creating and focusing on my film production more than I am able to perform…I have to give a lot of time to dance right now, cause that's what I'm being called to in this space,” she explained.

“Not everybody thinks like that. It’s okay. And I think that's also a testament to my queerness, that it’s just so vast, so not of this reality or dimension,” Garrett added.

This acceptance led to one of her most ambitious projects yet, “Longshot: Atlanta.”* The seed of this idea – to create a visual dance series – came to Kerri in 2018, but she didn’t apply for any funding until 2020, when Fulton County announced their Virtual Arts Initiative Grant to support artists during the COVID-19 pandemic. Her mother urged her to apply for the maximum grant amount. She got the call letting her know she received a $10,000 grant on the same day that she was released from another project for attempting to negotiate her pay rate. The catch? She had less than six months to develop, shoot, and release all five films. “This is in September of 2020, and they said the project needed to be completed by January 1st, 2021.”

With such a short turnaround time, Kerri started the project immediately. She called her friends, family members, and previous collaborators. Together, they created five dance films in five different genres, all with original music and choreography. The process was not without its ups and downs, including a car accident and a torrential downpour that knocked the power out. Garrett and collaborators persevered, and “Longshot: Atlanta” premiered in November 2020. She released one a week for five weeks, pairing each release with a free, virtual dance class. Garrett sees this project as a career milestone.

“It was very meaningful. I was just happy to have a beautiful space of people coming together, and I'm very much intentional about the productions and the sets that I create and the environment, because I've been on so many and I just know what I don't like, ‘cause I've experienced it…when I have that opportunity to create that environment, I'm very much intentional – making sure people feel seen, taken care of, and poured into so that they can show up for me the same way that I'm showing up for them, and that really is a testament to the work that's created as well,” Garrett said.

“I don't think people know how fly the Atlanta short indie film community is, and it's such a little tight niche that whenever I go to a new set, and I see all my folks, it feels like a family reunion,” Garrett credited a lot of the success of her various ventures to Atlanta’s film community, and the group of filmmakers creating short films in particular. She spoke at length about how resourceful and talented the film community is here, and how willing people are to help each other out to bring each individual vision to life.

Despite this, Garrett explained, the Atlanta film community is not without its own challenges. While there are some funding opportunities if you know where to look for them – like the grant she got for “Longshot: Atlanta” – applications are often long, complicated, and full of incomprehensible jargon. She’s found herself helping friends work through convoluted applications for grants and other funding. Another thing she thinks Atlanta’s community needs? “More funds, more money.”

Looking ahead, Garrett has a number of projects on the horizon. She has her own production company, House of Productions, which she launched with business partner Quenten McNair in 2018. She’s also working on the next iteration of “Longshot: Atlanta,” which she’s come to view as an anthology series. The next installment will bring together five writers, five cinematographers, and five actors to create five short narrative films. Also in the pipeline are two short films that she’s pairing with dance visuals, in classic Kerri Garrett-style.

Learn more about Kerri Garrett and how to collaborate and/or book her, and visit Garrett's Instagram for more updates on her craft.

*Garrett's "Longshot: Atlanta" was showcased twice by ATLFilmParty: the first time a portion of the anthology ("Funeral") was a finalist for Cycle 4, Season 1: Music Videos Shot in Atlanta, and the second time, AFP screened the full anthology at the AFP sponsored South Downtown Crawl, an event curated by Atlanta Office of Film & Entertainment which took place at Underground Atlanta.

Emma Warner is a film curator and professional living in Atlanta, GA. She is currently Coordinator for the Artist Accelerator program at Sundance Institute and a Programming Fellow at the Athena Film Festival. You can find Emma Warner on Instagram to see what she's up to in the film scene and more!