The 17th Annual Savannah Film Festival

Kody Cunningham
Kody Cunningham

The 17th annual Savannah Film Festival attracted a big name African American screenwriter and a few other celebrities on and off the screen. Though they weren’t technically in the spotlight, several aspiring filmmakers, directors and actors say they were excited to rub shoulders with other African-American males in the industry.

Just star gazing at Academy Award Winning Screenwriter Geoffrey S. Fletcher, Actor Donald Glover of “Community” and America’s Top Model Celebrity Judge J Alexander gave some of them inspiration. But aspiring directors, writers and filmmakers Kody Cunningham, Gregory Jordon and Michael Baldwin, who are currently attending the Savannah College of Art and Design or recent graduates, say they regularly gain motivation as students working with their peers.

Among the honorees at this year’s festival were Film stars Gena Rowlands, best known for her role in “The Notebook,” Matt Bower of “Magic Mike XXL” and Analeigh Tipton of “Crazy, Stupid Love.” J Alexander, known as “Miss J’’ because of his runway finest, was perhaps the king of selfies at the cocktail receptions throughout the week.

During the screening Cunningham, Jordon and Baldwin said they eyed the possibilities of joining the ranks of the big stars. Cunningham received kudos from his friends. But he couldn’t find words to describe how he felt when his first six-minute film, “Blue Hour” appeared on the big screen.

The story about a six-year-old boy’s last encounter with his father, who served him chocolate milk while he drank coffee, left viewers wanting move of the emotional short film. It was filmed on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Savannah.

Cunningham, 22, of Arlington, Texas, graduated from SCAD last spring. He said seeing his work was “indescribable.”

Attending the festival encouraged him to continue writing another film, when he not working full-time at a local restaurant. He says he gets his inspiration not so much for the celebrities at the viewing parties but from his peers, who work long and odd hours to finish new projects. Aside from his class work, Cunningham said he said he worked on 40 films during his time at SCAD. “That’s what it’s going to take,” he said.

Actor Donald Glover of “Community’’ made him feel star struck, Cunningham said. Otherwise, he said, “These are the people who are more advanced than I am. One day, I hope to be them.”

H e said he had breakfast with Fletcher, the award-winning screen writer of the film “Precious.”

Providing that sort of experience for its students elevates the festival in his eyes. “SCAD has the best film festival in the world. It’s not the place where celebrities just get in a limo. We have famous filmmakers in our classrooms and at our master classes.’’

Jordon said the college opens doors to all of its students. His film, “TEARS” describes the emotional state of a mother who lost her children to foster care. Also filmed in Savannah as his thesis project, it will premiere on the web prior to being released at the SCAD showcase in May.

Michael Baldwin, a 25-year-old performing arts student from Birmingham, said he’s learned that the artists at the festival are striving for something, “just like me….. It would be nice if there were more diversity. But I don’t feel isolated.”

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