Learn how “Palm Springs,” the summer hit movie starring Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti now streaming on Hulu, was created in this conversation with screenwriter Andy Siara. The conversation will be led by Neil Landau, associate professor and director of screenwriting.
Many university faculty members collaborate with one another on research or projects for the good of the community, but for Booker T. Mattison and Garland McLaurin, their collaboration draws on more creative elements—those of filmmaking.
Mattison, an assistant professor, and McLaurin, a lecturer, each are relatively new additions to the Department of Entertainment and Media Studies at Grady College, and the two graduates of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts knew that they wanted to work together on projects not just in the classroom, but outside, as well.
If their first collaboration, “Ungubani (Who Are You?)” is any indication, this is just the start of more films to come.
“It’s been a great relationship,” said McLaurin who worked as the cinematographer and a producer for the movie. “It’s been good to work with someone in the department who’s in the same creative space that you’re in and have that collaborative effort with a friend but also a fellow faculty member.”
“Ungubani” is gaining a lot of attention thanks to its acceptance at numerous film festivals, which are mainly virtual events since the pandemic. Festivals that the short 15-minute film has been accepted include the Harlem International Film Festival in New York City; the Deep in the Heart Film Festival in Waco, Texas; the Roxbury International Film Festival in Boston, Massachusetts; and the Cineodyssey Film Festival in Charlotte, North Carolina, among others.
There are also two Academy Award qualifying festivals that have accepted “Ungubani”—the St. Louis International Film Festival and the Reel Sisters of the Diaspora Film Festival—which means if it wins best short film at either festival, it will be eligible for an Academy Award nomination.
“Ungubani” won Best of Competition in the Narrative Category of the BEA Festival of Media Arts last spring.
Mattison and McLaurin explain that the film festival circuit provides extra visibility for films through added viewers and also a juried competition. Most importantly, it’s a showcase of what the filmmakers can do individually and collectively.
“It’s a business card that utilizes sound, performance, imagery and story,” according to Mattison. He also likens it to the NFL Combine: “The power brokers come to discover new talent.”
Like many other events in a pandemic world, Mattison, the director and a producer of the film, has been connecting with festival viewers over Zoom to discuss the messages of the film and answer questions.
“Ungubani” focuses on a young Black man who puts himself at risk to help a young white woman.
Mattison said he had been looking for a project to direct with McLaurin and when he read the script, he knew he wanted to be involved.
“The film is about identity, perception and race,” Mattison explained. “At the end, the characters are not who you think they are in the beginning. Viewers are constantly peeling back layers of the characters and come to realize that they can’t judge a book by its cover.”
Other advantages of the collaboration between the two faculty members are the benefits it brings to students. For instance, former students and now alumni Jacob Hale (AB ’18), Natalie Garcia (AB ’20) and Sheldyn Moore (AB ’20) served as the gaffer, director’s assistant and production assistant, respectively, on the film. Moore is now in the inaugural class of the MFA Film program.
Department of Theatre students Leah Merritt and Robyn Accetta, acted in the film.
“I like to extend my pedagogy beyond the walls of the classroom. It’s one thing to tell the students how to make a film, but another to be able to show them how it is made. It’s really a great opportunity for them and us.”
“Ungubani” will be distributed early 2021 on the Urban Movie Channel.
Mattison and Garland’s work together is expected to continue. Mattison, who is known for his work as the screenwriter and director for the film adaptation of Zora Neale Hurston’s story “The Gilded Six Bits,” which aired on Showtime and McLaurin, who won a Peabody Award for “180 Days A Year Inside an American High School” and “180 Days Hartsville,” are currently working on a television series pitch.
“I’m basically Robin to his Batman,” McLaurin explained with a laugh.
In addition to teaching undergraduate film production classes, Mattison and McLaurin are also professors in the new Master of Fine Arts in Film, Television and Digital Media program.
Nate Kohn, professor in the Department of Entertainment and Media Studies at Grady College, will co-host the first discussion of the Ebert Symposium on Oct. 8, talking about how the film industry is facing new realities because of COVID-19 and the recent focus in social justice reform.
Kohn also directs Roger Ebert’s Film Festival.
The Symposium brings together esteemed filmmakers, studio executives, media luminaries, entertainment attorneys and academics to contextualize the media’s change amid the backdrop of a global pandemic, social unrest over the killings of Black Americans by police and efforts to dismantle systemic racism in the United States.
“The entertainment industry is at an inflection point,” said Kohn, who also teaches in the new MFA in Film, Television and Digital Media program at UGA. “How will the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement change how we make and see movies? It feels as if things will never be the same, even after the pandemic ends. Is that feeling valid? We hope to find out.”
In addition to Kohn, the discussion will be co-hosted by Chaz Ebert, CEO of Ebert Digital and publisher of the film review website Rogerebert.com.
“Roger was always curious about change and experimented early with new technologies, embracing most of them, helping to shape his world view,” Kohn said of the film critic who died in 2013. “We are privileged to be able to deploy his wisdom to engage contemporary challenges.”=
The series premiere, “Movies in a Time of Change,” will examine production challenges, the impact of cinemas closing, how movies get made, our stories and who gets to tell them, how films are exhibited and the push for more inclusion and equitable representation.
Panelists will include:
- Melissa Haizlip, writer and producer, (“Mr. SOUL!”)
- Malcolm Lee, director, producer and screenwriter (“Girls Trip,” “The Best Man”)
- Mary Mazzio, founder and CEO of 50 Eggs Inc., an independent film production company dedicated to making socially impactful films (“I AM JANE DOE and “A Most Beautiful Thing”)
- Christine Swanson, writer and director of award-winning film and TV shows (“Chicago PD”; “The Clark Sisters: The First Ladies of Gospel”)
- Michael Barker, co-founder and co-president, Sony Pictures Classics
- Neil Block, head of distribution and marketing with Magnolia Pictures
- Darrien Michele Gipson, executive director of SAGindie, which connects actors with independent filmmakers
- Nina Shaw, and entertainment lawyer
The symposium is produced by University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, College of Media.
Part two of the Symposium is Oct. 22 and will look at “Documentary Film and Social Change.” The series concludes Nov. 5 with “Representation in Media,” a look at the biases that creep into film portrayals of people from certain communities, the importance of balanced representation and the need to challenge stereotypes and eliminate bias.
Roger Ebert’s Film Festival is an annual event celebrating films that haven’t received the recognition they deserved during their original runs and remembering the life and work of Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic, Roger Ebert.
A funny and heartbreaking new film about the “Egyptian Jon Stewart”, Bassem Youssef, “Tickling Giants” is coming to Athens for a special screening on Sunday, April 9, 1 p.m. at the Tate Theater on the campus of the University of Georgia. This showing is part of an international effort to spark dialogue about the abuse of power, free speech, and how we treat Muslims. Following the showing is a Q&A with the film’s producer Sara Taksler (currently Senior Producer of The Daily Show With Trevor Noah), who will also be attending.
Supported by grants from the Grady College, the Department of Entertainment and Media Studies, the Department of Journalism, and the Peabody Awards.
Admission is free and open to the public. However, tickets are required. For tickets, go to: https://ticklinggiants-uga.eventbrite.com/.