Gary native and actor William L. Johnson (from left); actor, writer, director Reggie Gaskins; actress and writer JoAnna Rhambo; and state Rep. Vernon G. Smith pose in the lobby at the Glen Theater after a session of the third annual William L. Johnson Film Festival. | Photo provided
Updated: April 28, 2014 3:37AM
It was great seeing Gary native and actor William L. Johnson come home to host the third annual William L. Johnson Film Festival last weekend at the Glen Theater.
Johnson, who has starred in numerous feature and independent films in nearly 20 years, brought returning guest and actor, producer, writer and director Reggie Gaskins and actress JoAnna Rhambo along for the ride.
I attended opening night, which featured two film shorts and a feature film. I was disappointed in the low turnout — the remainder of four snowstorms within a four-week span was melted to slush and ice so there was no excuse — but as state Rep. Vernon Smith said, those who came were meant to be there.
The small crowd meant a more intimate setting as attendees enjoyed the films without interruptions.
The first film short, “Speaker of the House,” is written, produced and directed by Gaskins. The synopsis for “Speaker of the House” reads, “A young actor is asked to lead a revolution to bring awareness to the racism that persists in Hollywood.”
Given the state of black films coming out of Hollywood today, “Speaker of the House” is gripping as the young actor must decide whether to become the one who breaks down the extremely thick glass ceiling of Hollywood or stay behind the scenes and in a comfort zone.
I asked Gaskins whether this short film — I called it a teaser — will become a full-length movie. He assured me that it will become a feature film, which is great, because it definitely left the audience wanting more.
The second short film, “Solstice,” was dramatic, graphic and gripping. Starring JoAnna Rhambo and also directed by Gaskins, “Solstice” is based on real events.
“I was in an abusive relationship in 2007 and I wrote the film as an outlet,” Rhambo said. “Reggie Gaskins was my acting teacher at the time and he read my story and said we needed to turn it into a film.”
I, along with everybody in the audience, was glued to film; at times audience members shouted during graphic scenes. I told Rhambo she should reach out to women’s shelters with this film and hold discussions with women who have been in abusive relationships.
The main feature, “Note to Self,” was a great feature film that I thought of as a 20-something rendition of “Love Jones,” except with sports and college students. The story line was great and flowed smoothly with romance, comedy and drama.
Seeing these films last weekend reminded me that black cinema is richer than people think. It is beyond the usual Hollywood themes and we should support all levels of black cinema, from the big screen to behind the scenes.