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Filmmaker Zachary Cunningham Introduces Two Short Films

The local poet and director invites the public to the premiere of The Crack and Regret(s) at the Millennium Centre in Southfield, Feb. 27, 2014

Zachary Cunningham is a poet and director whose thought-provoking films are helping him make a name for himself as a filmmaker. You could call him—"a poet with a purpose."

"If I don't have a personal connection to the story," says Cunningham about his film choices, "Or if I don't think that it will affect people, then I probably won't do it."

Cunningham, 25, his latest projects, The Crack and Regret(s), at a public showing starting at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 27 at the Millennium Centre Theatre in Southfield. The two short films examine common hardships, while highlighting varied ways of coping, says Cunningham.

Before the premiere, we spoke with Cunningham about his directing influences and putting a personal touch in film.

Why two films that deal with heavy issues in a dramatic way? You can deliver the same message in a comedy, or do you feel it would not be as powerful?

That's a good question. The art that I try to create is an extension of myself and everyone else involved. The writing and dialogue is based on my perceptions of things and my experience. The lighting and camera movement is based on how our cinematographer, Alesyn McCall, chooses to illustrate the script visually. It's always a very collaborative process. I do think that the issues that we deal with in both films would be less effective if they were in the comedic genre. We want people to "feel" the art.

Do you have a personal connection to either of these two short films? If so, why?

I have a personal connection to both, albeit for different reasons. In regards to The Crack, it's not necessarily personal to me in my own experience, but it's very personal from the standpoint that I wrote the piece when I was 17 years old. It wasn't a screenplay when I initially wrote it. It was a poem. I later converted the piece into a screenplay once I decided that I wanted to get into narrative filmmaking. So in effect, you could probably say that I wrote my first film long before I ever even knew that I would actually make (films).

Regret(s) is an extremely personal piece. The film deals with the loss of a loved one, and how we cope in those situations under less than ideal circumstances. The film is actually dedicated to three people: My best friend Randy who passed away four years ago, my uncle Larry who passed away in late 2012, and a good friend of mine, Chef Eric Giles, who just passed about a week ago. All three of these people were some of my biggest supporters; I hope that I've made them proud.

Any particular directing style you used as inspiration in these films?

Regret(s) was definitely influenced by Neorealism movement of the early 1900s. We wanted the subjects to feel less like characters and more like people. Cinéma vérité was also an influence—being that fly on the wall, watching subjects "be" while trying to get through a tough situation was something that I think added to the effectiveness of the film. Spike Lee's He Got Game and Ryan Coogler's Fruitvale Station were instrumental in establishing where I wanted to go with the look and feel of the film-—the former for its basketball scenes and the latter for its amazing documentary-like aesthetic.

The Crack was a bit different in terms of direct influences. Since it was based off of a poem, I let the words somewhat dictate what we did.

Have you discovered something about your own directing style in filming these two shorts?

I think that I know the kind stories that I want to tell now. I personally like dealing with the psychology of humans in film. That probably comes from my poetry background. I prefer making films that have strong themes and purpose.

Explain your relationship with the medium of film to tell a story. Why not music? Why not painting?

I've only been into film for about two years. I fell in love with the process when working on a short film titled #Detroit that I did with my partner in crime, LaToya Colts, two years ago. I actually look at this premiere as a manifestation of what LaToya and I started two years ago. I think that film was so inviting to me because of the technicality that it involves, but also the ability to only be limited by your imagination creatively. I always had a very visual style in terms of my poetry, so just placing images in the place of those line was a hand in glove fit.

What should every viewer walk away from these films thinking about?

I just want viewers to walk away from the films "feeling". It doesn't matter what they feel, as long as they feel something, I'm fine.

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