Another Successful Year for The Savannah Film Festival

Director Tanya Hamilton on the set of “Night Catches Us”
Director Tanya Hamilton on the set of “Night Catches Us”

Two promising films highlighting the triumphs’ and struggles of people of color in film and fashion design lit up the screen at last week’s Savannah Film Festival.

The motion picture “Night Catches Us” and the documentary “Dressed” were two of about 40 films shown during the event from Oct. 30 to Nov. 6 in downtown Savannah.

Tanya Hamilton, a writer-director whose first film was shown; and fashion designer Nary Manrivong, the subject of a documentary, spoke in separate interviews to The Savannah


about their careers and personal accomplishments.

For years now, Fashion Designer Nary Manivong has carried a tiny note tucked inside his wallet. “You can do it. Believe,” it says. It’s a reminder of where the fashion designer has been; who he is today and what he’s overcome.

Homeless at age 14, Manivong had to fend for himself for years on the streets of Columbus, Ohio. He was attending Walnut Ridge High School when he picked up a copy of Vogue magazine in the library.

The photographs of beautiful clothes sparked something inside of him and he decided that he’d become a fashion designer, even if he had to teach himself how to draw on paper napkins at restaurants where he bussed tables; or on the backs of store receipts where he bagged groceries. He also taught himself how to sew; and started designing on a level that got him a show at New York Fashion Week.

“He has a single minded determination,” said director Producer David Swajeski, who thought Manivong’s life was so compelling that he has made him the subject of a new documentary called “Dressed” for Moving Pictures.

Manivong, now 28, has beat the odds. He recently partnered with Ally Hilfiger, the daughter of Tommy Hilfiger, to start a new fashion line called NAHM.

My goal is to create

L-R: David Swajeski, Rachel Watanabe-Batton, and Nary Manivong
L-R: David Swajeski, Rachel Watanabe-Batton, and Nary Manivong
a lifestyle brand,” he said. “No matter what I going to do in life, it would turn out to be great for me. It was about having a better life,” he said adding he believes a guardian angel is watching over him.

“Night Catches Us,” a motion picture by Magnolia Pictures is about the everyday lives of former members of the Black Panther Party in Philadelphia. This slice of life story depicts an era rarely told in African-American films.

Written and directed by Tanya Hamilton, “Night Catches Us” is a fictional account of the complex lives of Marcus (played by Anthony Mackie) and Patricia (played by Kerry Washington) on one block in Philadelphia in 1976. At the heart of the story is Marcus’ return to his old neighborhood to bury his father after his mysterious disappearance immediately following the fatal shooting death of a friend, a fellow Panther and Patricia’s husband.

Told through the eyes of the dead man’s daughter played by Iris (played by Jamara Griffin), this slow moving drama deals with an extended family’s struggles with memories of the past and their desire to move into the future. Iris’ character is the glue that holds this story together.

Hamilton said this story was inspired by the life of a family friend. “I had a very simple agenda with this film. I’m interested in characters. It is not a political film,” she said. “The film looks at the complexities of Marcus’ struggles. He was struggling to do the right thing” by being a man who wanted to be Iris’ father figure and Patricia’s lover but not in the home where his friend was killed.

By focusing on the fictional characters in the Black Panther Party, Hamilton, 42, of Philadelphia, said she hopes viewers will consider what it is like for the real people “behind the façade.”

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