Sun. Sep 25th, 2022


On location at ABFF, RogerEbert.com spoke with the filmmakers about their films and their creative processes.

Sherif Alabede’s film, “Another Country,” starring Taylour Paige, is based on Pulitzer Prize-winner Natasha Trethewey’s Native Guard. The poetic but haunting narrative is semi-biographical and tells the story of an interracial couple raising their mixed-race child in rural Mississippi amid Jim Crow.

“In visualizing “Another Country,” we didn’t even look at films for references,” Alabede explained. “We looked at photography, particularly Roy DeCarava. He had a series of still photography from the ’50s. Gordon Parks was another good reference when we switched to color in the film. We looked at his series on segregation in the 1950s, which helped us with the aesthetic. We were chasing a certain tone and atmosphere, trying to weave together a poem written almost like a fantasy. It had to have this dreamy equality to it. It had to have this lyricism, too. So I found more inspiration in still photography.”

Elisee Junior St Preux’s Southern Delta set-film, “Aurinko in Adagio,” tells the story of a child musical prodigy, constantly pushed by his overbearing father. However, just as the young boy is set to audition for a prestigious conservatory, he taps into a new gift that involves ancestral dreaming.

Though the film has very little dialogue, relative newcomer Taj Johnson’s haunting expressions carry the film forward. “[Taj] is from Alabama,” St Preux explained. “We auditioned a few boys, and every young boy brought something different. But something interesting about him is he’s 12, and he’s still curious like a two-year-old but has the maturity of a 16-year-old. He’d come and bring pictures and fun facts about jazz musicians to rehearsals. So I found myself learning a lot from him throughout the process. He knew exactly what story we were trying to tell. We did a lot of workshops and chemistry reads and got to know each other. We did one rehearsal; I don’t do much rehearsing. So once we got to set, we did a lot of improv and just had fun. It was a really good time.”

With “Pens & Pencils,” director Gia-Rayne Harris and writer/producer Gem Little were intent on telling a story about the school-to-prison pipeline and why education hasn’t been an equalizer in America. In the film, a young Black teacher, Mallory (Dorée Seay), finds herself desperately searching for a student that no one else seems to miss.

For Harris, the audience needed never to look away. “I think that’s important that an audience gets to feel the very thing that we feel naturally as people of color when we see these things on the news. I wanted to shake people to their core,” she said. “It’s tough because there’s a balance. You don’t want to do something that hurts the people you’re making it for. But, I think it’s essential that everybody understands a minority’s mindset because I know when I see things like that in the news, it’s stuck in me. There’s a system of continued trauma.”

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