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Shaq & Karon in Gramercy

With everything going on in the world right now, there’s been an emphasis on understanding and caring for mental health. Gramercy, a live-action short film from Jamil McGinnis and Pat Heywood, follows a young Black man struggling with depression. Understanding that mental health issues are not widely discussed or acknowledged in the Black community, the co-directors have revealed their personal connections to the film.

Pat Heywood and Jamil McGinnis have made four short films together, including Gramercy, and the two have developed a friendship in addition to their positive working relationship. I spoke with the two of them about the making of Gramercy, and they explained how the idea and topic came to them. McGinnis explained:

It initially stemmed from tapping into the truths of what we’d personally been through. Both of us have dealt with mental health issues and depression. We found a group of guys that wished to tell the story, and we wanted to hone in on the truth of telling the story personally and then how to tell that visually.

There is no denying that this film is important to the cast and directors. Gramercy includes uncomfortable conversations between friends, and the filmmakers bring the audience right into those conversations. Expanding upon the idea of how to approach the subject visually, Pat Heywood added the following:

A lot of specifics and details you see in the film, it’s less wanting to make a film about strong Black men and more they are being themselves. The story and the themes of the subjective point of view are filmed through the eye of telling the story of depression - that comes from us, but it’s about knowing when to step back and let the subjects tell the story and be as honest and unimposed by us as possible.

Having experienced some degree of depression and mental health issues themselves, Jamil McGinnis and Pat Heywood were able to tell a really beautiful story with Gramercy. The title itself comes from the town in New Jersey where the film is based, but on a deeper level, it ties back to mental health. Pat Heywood said:

It almost eludes definition, which is kind of magical about the title of the film. That we can name depression and grief, there are words for it, and yet the actual experience of having grief and depression in our experience transcends language and most of it exists in this kind of, ‘I don’t know how to express this’ space. That’s like the human experience in general, most of our experiences exist in a space that we don’t have words for and yet we spend so much time expressing it in words.

That’s certainly something to think about. One of the best parts of cinema is its ability to convey an emotion that everyone watching can relate to without having to strictly identify it. The audience can simply experience. This is something the directors of Gramercy have accomplished. Speaking on his take of the title, along with what he hopes audiences take away, Jamil McGinnis said this:

I remember asking about the name of it and the true formal definition kind of means many things. I feel very thankful for being exposed to this group and these guys and it’s like a thank you from us to them. I hope these 22 minutes can make [viewers] feel one way in the beginning, a whole bunch of contradiction in the middle, be aware that that was there, and maybe that can help bridge another gap of the things [they] are going through.

The live-action short Gramercy can be viewed as part of 7 Shorts: Evidence of Things Unseen (Black Perspectives), a series in the 56th Chicago International Film Festival. For more options with Black leads, check out these suggestions.

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