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Howard alumnus presents an award-winning short film at DC film festival

Alumnus Kelvin Z. Phillips’ “Music For a While” premieres at the DC Independent Film Festival and wins “best short narrative film,” conveying a homeless man’s story through music.

The “Music for a While” poster features the main character, Grinell-Skot Gilmore, having a joyful moment while listening to the music. (Photo courtesy of Kelvin Phillips) 

“Music For a While,” a short film directed by Kelvin Z. Phillips, a 1986 alumnus, premiered in DC at Regal Gallery Place during the Washington, DC Independent Film Festival. At the festival, it was named best short narrative film.

The film is inspired by Henry Purcell’s Baroque composition using the same name. It is a film full of music with no dialogue. It tells the story of a homeless man’s past life and how it affects how he sees society today.  

Phillips came to Howard wanting to major in acting, but while things didn’t go as planned, he found a passion for filmmaking. With inspirational professors like Ethiopian filmmaker Hailie Gerima, he grew his talent as a scriptwriter and director. Phillips went to graduate school at NYU’s Tisch School of Arts with a focus on dramatic writing. 

“I’ve always been searching to tell my truth as a Black man… that’s always been important to me, even if those stories aren’t ones that have large audiences, it doesn’t matter,” Phillips said.” I straddled this world of having a day job, mostly doing project management work with filmmaking.

The idea of “Music for a While” came while Phillips was thinking about the concept of music in film, and he discovered the composition. He began considering integrating the song into a script he wrote about a homeless person being ignored on a Subway platform. 

Carla Jackson, the film’s producer and colleague of Phillips, said she was eager to work on this project and intrigued with how the story was being told. With a background in theatre arts, Phillips knew the partnership would be unmatched. 

“She knows story, I know story, and we make sure… whatever work we’re doing, even outside of film, starts with story, and that the stories are really solid,” Phillips said.

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They emphasize the importance of storytelling because it sets the intention for a film, and in marginalized communities,  they believe stories aren’t told correctly.  

“We’re people who care about our neighbor. We’re people who care about what stories are told in the world and, quite frankly, what stories are told with African Americans in particular because sometimes it’s not so pretty. The challenge at the end of the day was: how do you do all that,” Jackson said.

Jackson’s message to the audience while producing the film is not to make assumptions about people you see daily; instead, to get to know people and their stories to understand our world. 

“You have to sit back and say, I want to know my neighbor… Each person that shows up in this particular film is not what you see when you first see them. We did that in a way that was empathetic and, quite honestly, also poetic,” she said.

The short film is being shown in festivals nationwide and picked up its first award at the El Dorado Film Festival in El Dorado, Arkansas. 

The DC Independent Film Festival is a five-day competitive festival filled with screenings, seminars, and workshops that has been operating and growing since 1999. Filmmakers from all over the country have the chance to come together to appreciate each other’s work.

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“I enjoyed [the] film so much, it was lovely. I had tears in my eyes once it started rolling,” says comedy director, Anne Marie Allison.

“Music For a While,” shown during the Short Film Program, followed by a panel with Phillips, Jackson, actor Grinell-Skot Gilmore, and other film directors, was seen by over 140 people. Phillips and Jackson hope this film reaches the audience and inspires them to connect with the world. 

“We think it’s important to, yes, make films, but our whole point is to make connections with our world [and] bring people together,” Jackson said. 

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Copy edited by Alana Matthew

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