The students in Booker High School’s summer filmmaking academy had no idea they would be attending a major premiere of their film at the Sarasota Film Festival less than a year later. But the teenaged directors were happy to don their best fashions and pose for the flashbulbs in front of the Sarasota Opera House Thursday night.
“I love the opportunity come here today and walk the red carpet,” said Co-director Kiara Mitchell before the screening of Newtown at 100. “The has been an experience.”
The five student directors enrolled in a summer film academy, they all said, as much to boost college resumes and find something productive to do in the summer. It wasn’t until classes started that they knew they would be producing a feature-length documentary on Newtown’s 100th anniversary.
The young filmmakers worked with veteran ones. Judge Charles Williams and SFF Education Program Director Samuel Curtis, both experienced directors who had work premiere in the Sarasota Film Festival themselves, Williams said it was important that the film be made by young people living and attending school in the Newtown Community today.
Co-director Wade Turner agreed, and said to many people in the broader Sarasota community have no idea what Newtown is truly like. “If you don’t go to school at Booker or live in Newtown, most people would want to separate themselves from it,” Turner said. Co-director Teithis Miller added, “People want to past and say let’s go somewhere else. We give a picture of what Newtown really is.”
Co-director Jonathan Buckley said the film also explored parts of the community’s past that the young filmmakers were not familiar with before producing Newtown at 100. Standing in the heart of Downtown Sarasota, Buckley was surprised to hear Sarasota’s black community once could be found in today’s city core, not in North Sarasota where it sits today. “It was moved further down 301,” he explained. The film documents the evolution of the black community in what was then derivatively referred to as Black Bottom, then into Overtown where today’s Rosemary District sits. Then it migrated further northeast to the current location of Newtown today.
Deanna Dubose, whose daughter Deja Dubose was one of the co-directors but could not attend the red carpet, said the creation of the film did wonders for the teenagers learning the rich history of the Newtown region. “It was a wonderful opportunity for the kids to see what filmmaking is about,” she said, “but more than that to get to know the community there are growing up in.”
But the film is not just about the region’s past. Turner said the film taps into an economic rebirth underway right now. “The community was always strong but there is a growing economic thing going on because of the school being there, and things are improving so much,” he said.
“The future for Newtown is bigger and better than what it is now,” Mitchell added.
The entire experience has both Buckley and Miller considering careers in filmmaking. Williams said he wants to see the academy continue year after year, though he was unsure if a major opening with a community reception at the Sarasota Film Festival was in the mix every year. “We have to deal with that one year at a time,” he said.