Morehouse College film festival to honor Spike Lee and showcase independent, student auteurs

When Julien Turner was deciding on a college, he weighed two options.

Accept an athletic scholarship to fulfill his dream of being a Division I football player.

Or accept an academic scholarship to Morehouse College and learn how to be a filmmaker.

“When I finally decided that I didn’t see myself pursuing the NFL,” he said, “it made me comfortable that I could go to Morehouse College where Spike Lee had already paved the path for people who look like me.”

On Thursday, Turner and his 17-year-old brother Justen will debut their film, "Nia's Shadow," at Morehouse's inaugural Human Rights Film Festival.

The three-day event will highlight independent filmmakers whose work promotes cultural understanding and exposes the injustices of the world, as well as showcase the work of veteran directors, school officials said.

On Saturday, the festival will present its first Spike Lee Award for Social Impact in Filmmaking to a 1979 Morehouse College graduate: Spike Lee.

“Spike Lee has increasingly established himself as a legend, and his work has been, socially, so impactful,” said Stephanie Dunn, academic director of Morehouse’s Cinema, Television and Emerging Media Studies program. “And he is one of Morehouse’s own.”

Oscar award-winning film director Spike Lee, who graduated from Morehouse College in 1979, will be honored by his alma mata this weekend with the Spike Lee Award for Social Impact in Filmmaking.

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The award will be presented annually to artists who use their craft to champion social justice issues.

“Morehouse College has a rich legacy of producing leaders who speak truth to power across disciplines, including film and television,” said Morehouse President David A. Thomas. “Sharing that spotlight with new voices exposes our scholars, the greater Morehouse community and the public to ideas that broaden their intellect and to art that speaks to their cultural experience.”

Over the course of the festival, 34 films will be shown, including documentaries, 10 student films, 13 feature films and three marquee films, including Kasi Lemmons’ new film “Harriet” and Nate Parker’s “American Skin.”

The third marquee film will be Lee’s 1989 masterpiece “Do the Right Thing,” which will be shown Saturday night after the award ceremony, followed by “King in the Wilderness, ” a documentary on the life of 1948 Morehouse graduate Martin Luther King Jr.

In addition, there will be workshops on screenwriting, editing, directing and producing, as well as discussions on immigration, race, politics, health care, law enforcement and the judicial system.

Netflix and WarnerMedia will hold panel discussions on career opportunities for filmmakers, industry professionals and business services workers. Filmmaker Oz Scott will be a panelist for the “Creating Film in Atlanta” discussion. Scott gained acclaim as a television producer and director (“Black Lightning”) and theater director (“For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide/When the Rainbow Is Enuf”).

“I believe that films give us an opportunity to examine human behavior through a lens that captures the essence of our humanity and brings an awareness to important issues that should be widely exposed,” said Kara Walker, executive director of the Human Rights Film Festival. “By highlighting global injustices and promoting an understanding and appreciation of diverse thoughts, beliefs and lifestyles, human rights films start the difficult conversations that are necessary to rally people to effect positive change.”

Morehouse College senior Julien Turner is a budding director, who will debut his film, “Nia’s Shadow,” this weekend at the Morehouse College Human Rights Film Festival.

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That is what Turner had in mind when he and his brother started Dreadhead Films.

Self-taught, the brothers would spend breaks making short films at home in Illinois and then Ohio.

They began with tiny budgets but wanted to go bigger for “Nia’s Shadow,” a 22-minute sci-fi drama.

So they raised $50,000 in crowd-funding and shot the film in Columbus, Ohio.

In the summer of 2017, Julien Turner met Spike Lee for the first time at a film festival on Martha’s Vineyard. The veteran filmmaker invited the young filmmaker to his home to talk about the craft.

“It was a pretty dope experience,” Turner said.

The Morehouse College Human Rights Film Festival will run on campus from Thursday through Saturday at the Shirley A. Massey Executive Conference Center. The three-day festival will screen more than 30 films and feature panel discussions about television and film.

Here are some of the highlights:

  • Thursday: 7 p.m., "Harriet," directed by Kasi Lemmons, a new film about Harriet Tubman, the pioneering former slave who emancipated hundreds of slaves.
  • Friday: 7 p.m. "American Skin," tells the story of a police shooting.
  • Saturday: 7 p.m. Morehouse College Human Rights Film Festival Awards Ceremony. Spike Lee, the Oscar-winning 1979 Morehouse graduate, will be given the Spike Lee Award for Social Impact in Filmmaking.
  • Saturday: 8:30 p.m. "Do the Right Thing," A showing of Spike Lee's 1989 classic about a scorching hot day in Brooklyn that doesn't go so well.

Check back with the AJC on Oct. 27, for an exclusive profile on Spike Lee.