The one truth about the coronavirus is that we are all dealing with it. And, our youth, while often talked about as part of the story, are not often heard from.
It is the intersection of the coronavirus pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement as told from the perspective of America's youth that is the subject of former Chattanoogan Canedy Knowles' newest short film, "(Dis)Connected."
The film was recently accepted into the Amsterdam World International Film Festival and is being entered into future festivals as well. You can watch for the next 48 hours at bit.ly/canedyk. It was co-written by Malachi Nimmons, a graduate of the Professional Actor Training Program at Chattanooga State that is headed by Knowles' parents, Rex Knowles and Sherry Landrum.
The 24-minute film stars youth performers who had attended past Atlanta Workshop Players camps, as well as people Knowles has known from previous performances, classes or workshops. Her father has a small role, for example, as do her 6-year-old daughter, Davis De Vries-Knowles, and 12-year-old niece, Alexandria Knowles.
The short can be watched for the next two days at bit.ly/3qDtNjy.
For more on the Amsterdam Film Festival, visit https://www.facebook.com/worldinternationalfilmfestival
Family friend and Brainerd High School graduate George S. Clinton ("Mortal Kombat" "Austin Powers," "Bury Me at Wounded Knee") did the soundtrack.
"I asked him if he knew of someone who might be interested in doing the soundtrack," Knowles said.
"He said he loved it, and wanted to do it himself, and then gave me about an hour's worth of notes and feedback on ways to make it better, so he was a mentor in addition to doing the music."
Typically, Knowles said she would write the script and then cast the film, but in this case, she had the players already because of the virtual camp, which always includes the making of a film, and decided to use them not only as performers, but as contributors to the script. She asked them how the pandemic was affecting their lives and then used that information for the short snippets that make up the film.
Her daughter contributed a bit about missing out on social gatherings like tea parties and chalk drawing playtimes with friends, while her niece mentioned mental health and the difficulties surrounding having a relationship without being able to sit next to someone.
In order to make a short film about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on young people, Knowles had to deal with the virus and being safe. That meant figuring out how to use Zoom and FaceTime to direct her sound, lighting and camera people, as well as the cast. Distancing was a paramount concern and the crews would go to a location, in most cases, the home of the young actor in the scene, and set up lighting and then they would FaceTime Knowles to show her the shot.
"I was never with the cast in person," she said from her home north of Atlanta.
The segments are short and presented without being preachy or heavy-handed, and occasionally with a good dose of humor. They are based on her talks with the young actors and then reinterpreted. In the scene with her niece, she is on a Zoom meeting with a therapist and asks how long each session will last and is told, "Well, as long as you need them to."
She hangs up without another word.
"Yeah, my niece never hung up on a therapist," Knowles said with a laugh
"The thing about this movie is that everybody identifies with a different kid. We are all going through this but in different ways. The kid that I think everybody identifies with is the one who doesn't know what day it is.
"I work a lot in theater for social change and social justice, and heavy-handed doesn't always work," Knowles said. "People get it. I wanted to show the hope and perseverance of young people."
As the Black Lives Matter issues came to the fore, Knowles said she reached out to Nimmons to write that part of the script "because I knew that was not my storyline to tell. Malachi lives in New York and was in the middle of some of what was happening."
What makes the film work, she believes, is that it is told through the words and actions of the young people.
"I've seen stories about young kids and this virus, but never stories from the kids."
Contact Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6354.
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