Emerson will be well represented at this year’s Roxbury International Film Festival, New England’s largest film festival celebrating people of color, which begins Thursday, June 27.
One highlight is a screening of Losing LeBron, a feature about the impact of basketball star LeBron James’ departure in 2010 from his championship-less hometown of Cleveland, which was produced by Nicole Prowell Hart, MFA ’13, and Allyson Sherlock, MFA ’12.
“It’s not what he did, but how he did it,” said Prowell Hart, who got substantial funding for the film from the nonprofit group Take Action Hollywood, which is overseen by Extra co-host Maria Menounos ’00. “Going on national television (in a 75-minute special on ESPN) and dumping your city is not a good P.R. move. It’s like being dumped by your girlfriend or boyfriend on national TV. It was humiliating for the city.”
The director of the Roxbury International Film Festival, Lisa Simmons, MFA ’01, said she’s particularly excited for the screening of High Watch: The Power of Prayer by Nerissa L. Williams, MFA ’14. The short, which has no dialogue, examines how the power of prayer influences a teenage cancer patient.
“There was something about it. It was so holistic,” Simmons said. “It had a sense of hope to it.”
Williams said the story is loosely based on a close friend who lost her mother to cancer. She borrows the title from her father, who would routinely “tell me to keep the high watch,” meaning prayer, over people who needed it for a variety of circumstances.
“It was to take a moment out of the day to stop what we were doing to pray for that individual, whatever the circumstances may be,” said Williams. “[The film short] isn’t about a particular religion.”
Both Losing LeBron and High Watch arose from classes the aspiring filmmakers took in Emerson’s Department of Visual and Media Arts.
Williams said she wrote the script in a class with Associate Professor James Macak in the fall of 2011, and he encouraged her to produce it. Prowell Hart and Sherlock were encouraged by their instructor, Linda Reisman, senior distinguished producer-in-residence, in the fall of 2010.
“We were supposed to pitch our dream movie project,” Prowell Hart said. “She kept nagging us about it and our classmates said, ‘Why don’t you just make it?!’”
After purchasing tickets to the next Celtics game from scalpers, Prowell Hart and Sherlock, armed with audio and video equipment, interviewed basketball fans with lots to say.
“Everyone was talking about it,” Prowell Hart said. “After that evening, we said, ‘OK, we’re going to Cleveland.’”
The film festival is celebrating its 15th anniversary and has grown from 15 films to more than 50 and has gained international notoriety.
“I’m really proud that people out in Los Angeles will say, ‘You gotta go to Roxbury,’” Simmons said. “We’ve created something not only we love, but other people find value in too.”