Salem Film Fest presents special Thanksgiving weekend screening

FOR AHKEEM

By Shelley A. Sackett

Above: Daje Shelton in “For Ahkeem,” a documentary film directed by Jeremy S. Levine and Landon Van Soest.

BEVERLY — By the Sunday after Thanksgiving, even the most diehard football fan and Black Friday shopper should be ready to trade leftover pie for popcorn and venture out to the Cabot Theatre where Jeremy Levine, a Beverly native and Emmy Award winning documentary filmmaker from New York, will be returning home to screen his latest feature film, “For Ahkeem.”

The film tells the intimate and frank story of Daje Shelton, a strong-willed Black 17-year-old girl in North St. Louis, Missouri. The audience walks beside her as her path takes her from public school expulsion to the court-supervised Innovative Concept Academy, an alternative school for delinquent youth and her last chance to earn a diploma.

Shot over a two-year period against the charged backdrop of nearby Ferguson, we witness Daje’s struggles as she copes with academic rigors, the murders and funerals of friends, teenage love and a pregnancy that results in the birth of a son, Ahkeem.

With motherhood comes the realization that she must contend with raising a young Black boy in a marginalized neighborhood. The film illuminates the challenges that many Black teenagers face in America today, and witnesses the strength and resilience it takes to survive.

“For Ahkeem” will screen on Sunday, November 26 at 4:30 p.m. at The Cabot Theatre, 286 Cabot Street in Beverly as part of a special Salem Film Fest Presents — the documentary fest’s first cinema presentation outside of Salem. Levine will be on hand at to answer audience questions at the post-screening Q&A.

Salem Five Charitable Foundation is underwriting the screening and three local organizations are community partners: The Beverly Human Rights Committee, First Church Salem, UU and Salem No Place for Hate.

For Levine, who attended Beverly High School and worked for years as a counselor at the Waring School, the film he co-directed is more than a simple coming-of-age story. “It highlights the horrible effects of the school-to-prison pipeline, where we suspend and expel huge numbers of students — especially black and brown students — and the impact that has on girls like Daje from the time they’re five-years-old,” he said by phone from New York City, where he and co-director Landon Van Soest run Transient Productions, a full-service production company.

The film also approaches some of the most pressing social challenges facing America today — racial bias, social inequality, public education, police brutality and a biased criminal justice system.

“We wanted to tell a deeply personal story about what it means to live your life when so many systems are set against you,” Levine, an Ithaca College alumnus with a degree in Documentary Studies, said.

“For Ahkeem” has had an award-winning festival run starting in February at the Berlin Film Festival, followed by prestigious showcases like the Tribeca Film Festival, Canada’s Hot Docs, and the DMZ International Film Festival in South Korea.

While the film’s worldwide audience and awards —such as the Grand Jury Prize Award at Boston’s Independent Film Festival — thrill Levine, for him the screenings and discussions at high schools and prisons fulfill a greater mission of trying to do better for future generations of children.

In Tribeca, New York City, for example, approximately 500 high school students attended a screening. “When Daje came out for the Q&A afterwards, the kids erupted in applause,” Levine said.

The ensuing discussions included kids “really opening up about some of the challenges they face in their lives. It was really incredible,” Levine added. He is currently working to bring the film to more public high schools through a grant program.

Screenings at prisons have been equally powerful. When the lights came up at one screening for 100 inmates, all the tears in the room full of men touched Levine. “One of them wrote a poem for Daje and Ahkeem. Another man said, ‘Who knew I could learn so much about being a man from the story of a young woman?’” he said.

Levine credits the culture of Judaism and Hebrew School lessons at Temple B’nai Abraham in Beverly, “a part of my life growing up”, with imbuing in him a sense of responsibility to try to make the world a better place. “I learned about the long suffering of our heritage and the injustice of that. That kind of moral underpinning is definitely huge in the work I do,” he said.

 

“For Ahkeem” will screen on Sunday, November 26 at 4:30 p.m. at The Cabot Theatre, 286 Cabot Street in Beverly as part of a special Salem Film Fest presentation. For more information or to buy tickets, visit theCabot.org.

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Celebrating Ten Years with a Bubbly Brew

Far From the Tree Launches special Salem Film Fest Cider

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Alex Snape brewing a special batch of craft cider.

 

When Salem Film Fest, the week-long all documentary film festival that runs from March 2-9, celebrates its tenth anniversary this year, it will be even more special because of Alex and Denise Snape, co-owners of Far from the Tree, a craft cider company specializing in unique, high-quality hard cider made from local ingredients.

 

They will create a special SFF Brew (stay tuned for its official name) that will reflect the film they are co-sponsoring, “First Lady of the Revolution”, the remarkable story of Henrietta Boggs, an Alabama Southern belle who takes a life-altering journey through marriage, civil war and audacious democratic reforms to become the First Lady of Costa Rica.

 

“When we think of documentary film, we think of raw, powerful emotion and beauty in storytelling. We hope to make a cider that will boast strong flavors and a lot of personality that people will enjoy from the first sip to the last,” Alex said.

 

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Jeff Schmidt, SFF program director, couldn’t be more pleased with the collaboration between the two local mainstays. “I think the handcrafted artisan nature of the cider produced by Far From the Tree pairs up in a really interesting way with the artistic process of filmmaking. Henrietta Boggs is quite a character, and creating a tribute to her seems like a great fit!” he said.

 

Alex plans to launch the new cider on Sunday, February 26, days before the festival opens. He is working with the SFF committee to show the short films from the previous festivals in Far from the Tree’s tasting room that night, and he’d like to collaborate with Popped! Gourmet Popcorn in Salem to provide popcorn for his guests.

 

“Whenever we release a new cider, the response has always been very great. We hope the launch on February 26th will be just as successful,” he said.

 

Far from the Tree makes a craft hard cider based on a philosophy that respects tradition by controlling the entire production process from apple pressing straight through to bottling. The cider is made with local apples and exclusively natural ingredients. Over the almost three years they have been serving up their delicious hard cider, they have crafted other special brews, including Husk Cider, a small-batch fermentation designed to complement Island Creek oysters, and four brews inspired by inspired by the works of New England horror author, H.P. Lovecraft and released in October 2015 to coincide with Salem’s month-long celebration of all things Halloween.

 

Alex isn’t the only film fan at Far from the Tree. Erik Pudas, its head cider maker, is a former cinema projectionist who has worked at film festivals in the past and still enjoys the unique films only a festival setting can offer. Jen Tran, the tasting room manager and head of sales, has attended the festivals for the last several years. “As a growing Salem business, we have developed several connections and relationships with community leaders, volunteers and organizers, and are happy to help support them,” Alex said.

 

Salem Chamber of Commerce Executive Director (and a Salem Film Fest co-founder) Rinus Oosthoek echoes Alex’s enthusiasm. “I think the special brew is a fantastic way both to celebrate Salem Film Fest’s 10th Anniversary and to help promote the festival and FFTT at the same time. Our film fest audience will be very receptive to the idea, so we should be able to get FFTT some new customers,” he said, adding in his native Dutch, “Proost!”

 

 

Far from the Tree is located at 108 Jackson Street in Salem. For hours and more information, visit farfromthetreecider.com.

 

Salem Film Fest 2017 runs March 2-9. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit salemfilmfest.com.