First… rehashing changes I previously noted about the annual Shadow & Act Black Filmmakers To Watch series in the announcement I posted about 4 weeks ago, if only for those who missed it to catch up (you can skip the next 2 paragraphs, if you've already read them).
– Say goodbye to the once-every-12-months list of 10 to 20 filmmakers, and say hello to what will be an ongoing series, profiling black filmmakers who we feel deserve individual spotlights. Each week, we're introduced to the works of black filmmakers (and we're considering the entire diaspora, not just black American filmmakers) that impress us enough, suggesting the idea that something continuous, throughout the year, makes more sense, than publishing a single list annualy. We want to highlight as many filmmakers as we can, especially in this climate that sees only a handful of *black films* every year that enjoy anything close to broad awareness; and also, in part, to combat the notion that there isn't enough variety in what stories we can tell, and how we choose to tell them. I think we get so distracted and depressed about what we don't have, that we tend to forget to appreciate those who are toiling away in creative silence/obscurity. And I realize it's best to show who/what else is out there that we don't already know about en masse, or that we do know about, but, for one reason or another, aren't paying as much attention to, as we probably should.
– Second, unlike previous years, our emphasis will be on relatively *unknown* filmmakers; our goal is to highlight those filmmakers who are producing work (whether still in film school, making short films, or veterans who've been making films for years, and everything between), but just haven't quite yet been *discovered* if you will (of course that's a loaded word, because it could mean any number of things, to any number of people; but instead of listing specific criteria, I'll just let the posts speak for themselves); essentially, filmmakers we believe are creating interesting work, who haven't received much attention, and who we believe you all should definitely know about (if you don't already). There's a reason why I've repeatedly requested that filmmakers we haven't covered, contact us, and introduce yourselves and your work; it's so that we can get to know you, and your work, for this purpose (and others). I continue to encourage that STRONGLY! As I've said before, we try to stay as connected and informed as we can; however, we don't know of every single black filmmaker and every single black film in circulation, every year. We rely on you folks to assist in providing some of that knowledge as well.
So now that you know all that… here's the 3rd of many filmmakers who will be featured in this new S&A Black Filmmakers To Watch format (thus far, Canadian writer/director Alfons Adetuyi and British/Zambian filmmaker Rungano Nyoni have both been profiled last week).
This week it's someone that I think many of you will already be familiar with – Mr. Russ Parr. Although I'd say that he's probably more well-known for his work as a radio personality, via his nationally-syndicated Russ Parr Morning Show, which reaches millions of listeners nationwide.
Russ is also a filmmaker, if you didn't already know, with some 5 film credits to his name, whether as writer, director, or both. But having seen 3 of his films thus far, I can say that The Under Shepherd (his latest work, which hasn't been released yet) is his strongest, and most ambitious work to date, and I'm really curious to see what he does as a follow-up, as I predict a continuous evolution and growth in successive projects.
Completely unlike the expected comedy/drama in his previous work, 35 And Ticking, The Under Shepherd (while not without its own share of humor) is more of a character study, headlined by one of the strongest, and most dynamic actors of his generation, Isaiah Washington, in an ensemble cast.
It's one of 3 films I've seen this year that center heavily on what we broadly label "The Black Church," although unlike Ya'Ke Smith's acclaimed drama Wolf and Spike Lee's Red Hook Summer, The Under Shepherd has absolutely nothing to do with child molestation, or the effects of; but maybe a "molestation" of another kind, we could say.
The film has its missteps; there's a lot going on here, which can be a challenge, as Parr attempts to address a number of issues within the film, making it almost impossible to keep all of it under control and cohesive. But I grew to appreciate and respect Parr's ambitions here; risks are taken, it's bold and brash, and he's clearly pushing for something grander, which should be the rule of all filmmakers, whether you're successful in the end or not.
At the very least, it'll surely inspire lots of conversation after it's released, whenever that will be; and I do hope that Russ continues to push himself as much as he did with this film, because, if he does, even better things will come, including wider recognition for his efforts.
He's maybe more known for his humor (he was a stand-up comic for some time), but he can also do drama. Film is the path he's now on, and it's definitely a labor of love, as Russ has said that he lost money on almost all of his past films, which were all learning experiences.
He's actually been in the media business for some 20 years, and comes into this with a lot of different experiences, working in a variety of fields, all of which should contribute to his filmmaking style and the kind of content he choses to tackle.
Having chatted with him, as well as read interviews he's done with other media outlets, I like his overall attitude and respect towards the process and craft of filmmaking, and it's clear that being the best filmmaker he can be, is definitely something he strives for.
He's in this for the long haul, so familiarize yourselves. I think we'll be talking about him more and more in years to come.
An in-depth interview with Parr is in this site's near future.
In the clips below, some of the cast, and Parr talk about The Undershepherd: