Award-winning local film to screen in Royal Oak

“Swing Low” explores themes of slavery and revenge.

he resurgence of slave narrative films in recent years, like the anticipated and controversial “The Birth of a Nation,” has sparked a pattern of critically acclaimed movies, and the new locally filmed, produced and cast short film “Swing Low” is no exception.

The movie tells the story of an extraordinary slave named Samuel, who must grapple with feelings of revenge and justice after a plantation owner sets out for murder.

“The main difference between films like ‘Django’ and ‘12 Years a Slave,’ and ‘Swing Low’ is that there is a cooperative hope,” Phil Elam says, who wrote, produced and was the lead actor in the film. “[‘Swing Low’] points out that any one person can always make a stand for someone else.”

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This cooperative hope comes in the form of an alliance between two characters in the film on opposing sides-slave owners and slaves.

The film has been screened at several festivals and has accumulated a number of awards, but Elam says he’s most proud of the award for best actor in a lead role and best song. Elam, who has a background in classical music and has opened for both Nelly and the Village People, co-wrote and performed the song “Faces” for the film.

“I grew up in inner-city Detroit and my dad made me take classical piano lessons; it didn’t make me the most popular kid on the block,” he says.

The movie was filmed in Dexter, Michigan and used Gordon-Dexter Hall as a primary shooting location. It’s believed that the mansion was the last stop on the Underground Railroad before crossing into Canada.

Elam says he plans to attend the screening and wants to give moviegoers the option to talk with the filmmakers.

“[This film is for] anyone who believes in hope, anyone who believes in change, anyone who believes he or she can make a difference.”

“Swing Low” will be screened on Saturday, October 15, at 3 p.m. and 9:30 p.m. as part of the Halloween Horror Short Film Block of the Royal Starr Film Festival at the Emagine theater in Royal Oak. 

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