AV Rockwell stands with a camera during the production of A Thousand And One. Photo courtesy of Focus Features.

A.V. Rockwell on the Connective Tissue of A Thousand and One

Film Interviews

A.V. Rockwell sits against a gold backdrop wearing an all-black outfit. Photo courtesy of Focus Features.
Writer/director A.V. Rockwell’s film A Thousand and One opened in theaters across the country over the weekend. Photo courtesy of Focus Features.

If you can make it in New York City, you can make it anywhere. Writer/director A.V. Rockwell is testing out that theory with her new film, A Thousand and One, which was shot on location in Brooklyn, found success in Park City as the winner of the Grand Jury Prize for U.S. Dramatic Feature at Sundance Film Festival 2023 and opened in theaters across the country over the weekend.

“It’s been such a beautiful blessing to see how universal so much of the movie is and how it’s able to reach people regardless of where they come from,” Rockwell says. The 34-year-old filmmaker began to garner serious attention within the film industry in 2016 when her short film The Gospel won her the Guggenheim Fellowship for the Arts and a Sundance Institute Feature Film Fellowship. Rockwell followed this with Feathers in 2018, which made her a grand-prize winner at Toronto International Film Festival, all of which led to her auspicious feature debut. 

A Thousand and One follows Inez de la Paz, a young woman recently released from jail at Rikers Island in the ’90s, who kidnaps her six-year-old son, Terry, from the foster care system. Mother and son then spend a tumultuous 17 years in a city that changes around them. Though physically close to each other in their small apartment, they are emotionally distant, each searching for identity, navigating trust issues and carefully guarding one particular secret that threatens to change everything.

A Thousand and One is a complex story with the complex Inez at its core, and Rockwell knew that finding the right actress to embody the character was integral to bringing the film to life. “I knew we couldn’t just offer the role to people,” Rockwell says. “I really needed to see in the room that whatever actress was going to play this role was going to bring all the qualities that I was looking for to light her up off the page.” Rockwell found her Inez in powerhouse performer Teyana Taylor. The 32-year-old singer/dancer/actress is known for her musical collaborations with Usher, Missy Elliot and Omarion among others, as well as for her on-screen work in Madea’s Big Happy Family and Coming 2 America

Rockwell began casting Terry by signing on the youngest actor who would play the role, Aaron Kingsley Adetola (Rise), and going from there. Josiah Cross portrays the final, unforgettable version of Terry. Cross is a rising young star who appeared in King Richard and will join Oscar nominees Austin Butler and Barry Keogan in Masters of the Air, an upcoming World War II miniseries from Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg.  

A woman holds her child in a scene from A Thousand And One. Photo courtesy of Focus Features.
Rockwell began casting Terry by signing on the youngest actor who would play the role, Aaron Kingsley Adetola. Photo courtesy of Focus Features.

A Thousand and One is an unflinching look at people in both their best and worst moments. It was imperative to Rockwell that the film be a testament to humanity rather than a judgment on anyone’s actions or shortcomings. “I think that human beings are complicated, and I think that how we respond to certain situations is not always consistent,” Rockwell says. “Not everybody shows up as the same version of themselves with everyone … I think that you just see through these characters just how complicated we all are.” 

In addition to exploring personalities, part of Rockwell’s mission was to chronicle the life of the city in which she grew up and the changes gentrification, political machinations and public indifference brought upon it. “I feel like we move through life so fast, and we’re not always observing what’s happening around us,” Rockwell says. “Sometimes we wake up one day and we’re just like ‘What? How did we get here?’ We’re taking for granted all of the things that play into how life is shaped in the city.”

A Thousand and One took in an impressive $1.8 million dollars in its opening weekend while playing in only 926 theaters across the United States, and Rockwell has been humbled and overjoyed to see audiences finding themselves in the film. “I hope that it fosters connective tissue by which people are able to relate to each other in new ways,” Rockwell says. As word of mouth spreads, the future looks bright for the film and for Rockwell, who is filled with stories to tell and a passion for her art form and her city. A Thousand and One is an auspicious beginning to a promising feature filmography. 

Read more interviews with filmmakers on SLUGMag.com:
Noah’s Arc Continues In Leverage: Redemption Season Two
Jonathan Kasdan On The Magic of Willow