Every year actors, directors, and producers wait, then enjoy the announcement of being “officially selected” from their favorite film festivals. Although an honor, the larger the festival is, the easier it is for films to get lost in the shuffle. This year The Pan African Film Festival (PAFF), programmed 172 films, ranging from comedic shorts, to dramatic features. Film festivals try their best to pull out the same showmanship of Hollywood premiers, with the red carpet, celebrity guest, and parties, but overall, attending a festival brings independent filmmakers a step closer to obtaining their dream.
Flipping through this year’s program attendees probably found a few titles they read about briefly online, but didn’t have the opportunity to watch. “The Retrieval” (Dir. Chris Eska), is set during the U.S. Civil War, and was initially released in April 2013, but those in the audience at PAFF, were introduced to the film for the first time.
A difficult subject matter, “The Retrieval,” follows Will (Ashton Sanders), a 13-year-old in the care of his undeserving uncle, who works under the control of a white bounty hunter (Bill Oberst Jr.). The duo’s next assignment is to retrieve Nate (Tishuan Scott), a freedman living in the North.
Tishuan experienced the festival circuit before with the Sundance film “Computer Chess,” but “The Retrieval,” has brought him multiple accolades and an award for best actor in the festival scene. Although festival films are usually known by a niche group, Tishuan reveals, “film festivals are amazingly important to actors.” Furthermore, festivals are “an outlet and platform for actors like myself to have exposure.”
Although the filmmakers were not present for a Q&A after the film, the audience commented on the vivid and realistic visuals in the film. Tishuan, an UCLA grad, also had to make a personal transformation in order to capture the soul of Nate. Tishuan shares he spent “four months growing out my facial hair. I did a lot of reading of American History. I read W.E.B. DuBois, The Souls of Black Folk; Ida B. Wells-Barnett, Georgia Lynch Law; and William Styron’s, The Confession of Nat Turner. All these histories gave me insight to our country at the time. I looked at several images of African American men and families. There never was a smile in any of the photos of the men that I came across. Those images were immensely helpful in discerning Nate’s countenance.”
During the festival it’s no surprise aspiring actors watched their favorite films and wondered how to even choose a project worthy of a festival selection. Tishuan advises actors to “research the writer and director. Watch their films, be curious about their artistry and creativity and the meaning of their films and how they want their work to impact their audiences.” While watching “The Retrieval,” it felt like it was groomed to be an independent hit from the first scene, but Tishuan confirms that the thought of “The Retrieval” being an award winning film, “never crossed my mind while filming or reading the script. I was so focused on the beauty of having the grace and blessing of such a role.”
As “The Retrieval” successfully maneuvered through the festival circuit, the film also has gained distribution through Variance Films, and will have its theatrical release at New York City’s, Film Forum, April 2, 2014, with additional screenings by April 18, 2014.
For a full list of the 2014 award winners, visit PAFF.org.