Local filmmakers tackle social issues

Filmmaker Cranstan Cumberbatch and the panel fielded questions from the audience after the Dec. 9 screening of “Art in the City” at the Palladium



ST. PETERSBURG — Former homeless persons, former substance abusers, veterans, artists and folks looking for something to do on a Saturday evening were just some of the people who made up the audience at the screening of “Art in the City” at the Palladium Dec. 9.

“We meet people every day who have passions and dreams living inside of them that are dying,” said filmmaker Cranstan Cumberbatch when asked what the key component of the creative process was. Even though St. Petersburg is not Hollywood or New York, he wanted to show people that their artistic “dreams can live right where they live.”

Co-written, co-directed and co-produced by Cumberbatch and Jabaar Edmond, both men worked tirelessly to see the film make it to the big screen.

“We didn’t have everything resource wise that we would like to have had, but we used our resources and our will and drive to quiet that voice inside of us,” said Cumberbatch, referring to their inner discontent that would arise whenever they felt like giving up on the project.

“Art in the City” tells the story of a homeless war veteran named Danny, played by Cumberbatch, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Danny meets a woman named Sandy, portrayed by Stephanie Porto, who helps him use art to self-medicate, eventually selling his artwork and finding success in the St. Pete art scene.

L-R, Bro. John Muhammad, Marques Clark and Jabaar Edmond

L-R, Bro. John Muhammad, Marques Clark and Jabaar Edmond

After the screening, the question and answer portion gave great insight into the veteran community with many of them giving their feedback. Doctoral candidate and veteran Benjamin Smet and retired Master Sergeant Milton White, both from the University of South Florida, Bob Devin Jones, co-founder of The Studio@620, gallerist Carla Bristol, cast member Porto, veteran/artist Larry Busby and recovering addict Amanda Nelson rounded out the panel.

Although Busby didn’t see any combat, he suffered from depression, homelessness, substance abuse, and a failed suicide attempt. He was able to get back on his feet through resources at the Veterans Hospital, the Mustard Seed Inn, and through the support of his community.

After being told to get a hobby, Busby learned digital photography and started posting his work on Facebook. It caught the eye of the  Veterans Art Center Tampa Bay (VACTB) and they helped him get his artwork noticed.

Even though “Art in the City” was not a chronicle of Busby’s life, both he and the film’s protagonist were able to slay their demons through creative works of art. His photographs can be seen at the Straz Center and along the Tampa Riverwalk.

Smet recounted the startling statistic that 76 percent of all military veterans regardless of branch of service, gender, ethnicity or whether they saw combat or not feel disconnected from their civilian life. He praised the VACTB for helping many veterans transition back and become productive citizens.

Milton brought out the film’s difficult audio levels and how many might find it challenging to listen to at first.

“That’s part of the experience that you as an audience are supposed to get,” said Milton.

Whether intentional or not, Milton said people experiencing PTSD or other extreme levels of stress often go through life with a constant bombardment of noises on a daily basis as they try to cope.

Using himself as an example, after Milton returned to civilian life and entered college, he found it difficult to sit in a classroom and learn.

“I think about the muted voices sitting in the classroom, trying to understand what the instructor was talking about and being so disconnected to the others in class that I didn’t want to be there anymore.”

Milton shared his difficulties of sitting through class with other veteran students and found out that he was not alone.

“The thing that saved me was the community I was a part of,” he said. “Because we had each other we were able to get through it and decided to help others.”

Throughout the film, the protagonist had to learn how to cope with living on the streets. That storyline is all too familiar for Nelson, who lived on the streets of St. Pete with her daughter.

She moved here from Mississippi after a 17-year drug and alcohol addiction. In her first year of sobriety, her car was repossessed and was evicted.

“I was doing good and trying to be a good person, but I didn’t know I had to work because addiction takes your sense of responsibility away,” she said. “I just thought that life was going to be easy.”

She walked the streets with her child without any help, but Nelson vowed to be a better mother and clawed her way back.

“I moved down here for a new life and I was determined to do so.”

Representing the arts community, Bristol and Jones were both praised for opening their doors to emerging artists, senior artists and to people who haven’t claimed the moniker as of yet.

Bristol portrayed herself in the film and saw firsthand the hard work and dedication of both Edmond and Cumberbatch. She commented that many people have ideas but have trouble executing them.

“I know how busy they were. They worked so hard to make this possible,” she said.

Jones echoed her sentiments saying that he was “proud of what you’ve [the filmmakers] achieved with the movie and all the people you have touched with it.”

Audience member Kalvin Wilkins, a 26-year-veteran of the Air Force summed the evening up by saying: “The movie is phenomenal. If it helps just one person, it has done its job.”

If you have not seen “Art in the City” yet don’t fret. There will be another screening at Sundial on Jan. 15. For more information, please contact Jabaar Edmond at (727) 320-6264 or jabaaredmond@ymail.com.

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