By Charles Hallman
Talibah L. Newman wrote and directed Busted on Brigham Lane, and Jesse Atlas and Aaron Wolfe co-wrote Record/Play, directed by Atlas. The two short films were included in the “Relationships” shorts program at the recent Minneapolis Underground Film Festival hosted by the Film Society of Minneapolis/Saint Paul at St. Anthony Main Theatre.
The MSR talked to Newman, Atlas and Wolfe in separate phone interviews prior to the showings.
“It is about a young girl who hasn’t seen her father in 10 years so they have an estranged relationship,” explains Newman of Busted on Brigham Lane, her fourth short film. “She is about to turn 18, and she is on the subway with her niece when she sees a man on the train, and she notices a tattoo on his arm and decides to follow him.”
The two longtime friends Atlas and Wolfe “wanted to…tell a whole story in nine minutes — to have a beginning, middle and end that was really huge,” admits Wolfe on Record/Play, a short film that is part science fiction and part love story centered on a malfunctioning cassette tape. Wolfe said that he and Atlas always wanted to work together on a project and called the film “a creative corroboration.”
“It started out as one thing, and gradually as the story becomes tighter, and it came pretty quickly once we agreed on what kind of story we wanted to tell,” recalls Atlas on his third directorial effort. He also has been an editor on several documentaries and television series. “As director, you are leading that project but have everybody involved. It’s the perfect way to express myself artistically.”
Now working on her film thesis as a Columbia University MFA film directing student, 28-year-old Newman, the oldest of five children, “grew up in a house where my mom was always performing, and [she] had us in her plays. I loved writing poetry and writing short stories, and I knew I wanted to extract pieces of my life and other people I’ve encountered in my family and friends …Because of that, I thought some type of writing or storytelling would be my medium.”
Newman went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in film studies, African American studies and creative writing from Columbia.
However, she admits that it was seeing a hit movie that finally clinched her career choice: “It wasn’t until I saw The Matrix that I realized that I wanted to become a director. After I saw that movie, my friends and I talked about it for three hours. The experience impacted me so much that I had a strong desire to give people something timeless to take with them, and share a peace of myself to people that could affect them, whether it be emotionally, for entertainment — I just wanted to do something where I can tell stories, and show transformation and growth on a very wide scale.”
Newman says she began writing Busted in 2010, and then shot it in six days last year. She didn’t finish the film until this past March. “It was something that was important to me…because women struggle with their relationship with fathers who weren’t in the house, and I think this film can help people to find peace hopefully through what I have expressed in this film.”
Atlas and Wolfe say they are now working on a longer version of Record/Play. “It is going to be a busy fall for us,” says Atlas.
Newman, who has previously worked as a production assistant (Welcome Home Roscoe Jenkins and Soul Man), says she also wants to do a feature film. “I am very excited on what is going to happen in the future,” she says.
“I’m glad that I have chosen [to be a filmmaker] because I realize that a lot of people don’t pursue their passion in life. I feel that we all should, but I know that it is because of fear and fear of not having stability. I have found a way to have stability in being able to do my art.
“I’ve learned a lot as a filmmaker” at Columbia, says the granddaughter of the late jazz musician David “Fathead” Newman. “When I start making features, I would like for music to work for me in the same way that my actors work — to be a character in my film[s].”
New technology allows short films such as his and Newman’s to reach a more universal audience, says Atlas. However, “I think there are still ways and miles to go in terms of figuring out how to organize the short film genre and independent film genre into something that really works and strives in this new media.”
Finally, on being a Black female filmmaker in “a White-male-oriented industry,” Newman points out, “Being a woman of color I think gives me an interesting perspective in general. Being a woman of color, we have so little reflected back to us as an audience that resembles the experience that we go through.
“So I try to create those experiences in my work.”
For more information about Record/Play, go to www.jesseatlas.com. For more information about Busted on Brigham Lane, go to www.talibahlnewman.com or follow Newman on Twitter: @talibahlnewman.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to [email protected]