A Baltimore resident is basking in the spotlight after winning the NAACP “ShortsTV” Champions for Justice Short Film Competition during the recently completed convention held in the city by the famed civil rights organization.
Mecca Amoni Michele Lewis, a Baltimore School for the Arts graduate and Erin Gaddis teamed to create “JustUS: Living with a Criminal Record,” won $7.500 to produce an extended documentary that will air on ShortsTV.
“Winning the film competition was incredible,” said Lewis, who lives in West Baltimore.
“It felt surreal to be able to share my work with such a large audience of people. I was overwhelmed with gratitude when I found out that the audience appreciated our work and voted in our favor,” she said.
The six-minute film sheds light on the realities of re-entering society after incarceration.
It features poet and yoga instructor Akewi Barnes who talks about poetry he’s written since being released from prison where he spent time from the age of 16 for attempted murder.
Kisha Webster, president of the Greenmount Community Association, also figures prominently in the film, speaking on the difficulties that faced ex-convicts coming home.
“I spent the past year primarily working in film and photography at the Baltimore School for the Arts during the day and after school participating in programs that facilitated youth participation in government,” Lewis said.
“The two began to inform the other and I made artwork inspired by social and political issues I learned about or spoke out against. This opportunity to participate in the film competition was right up my alley because it combined filmmaking and social justice all in one,” she said.
“JustUS” was one of three films that competed for the top prize of $7,500 to create an “extended documentary” that will air on ShortsTV, which created the “Champions for Justice” program with the NAACP.
Each of the three films was created by a two-person team, with one each addressing the subjects of police violence – one of the filmmakers working on that topic was Shaqueal Wilson, also of Baltimore – the “school-to-prison pipeline” and living with a criminal record.
“We are so excited for the team of Erin Gaddis and Mecca Amoni Michele Lewis,” Carter Pilcher, CEO of ShortsTV, said in a statement.
“Short film is a great medium for telling stories and they are at their most powerful when they’re used to change hearts and minds. That was the objective with our collaboration with the NAACP and this competition that we developed together,” Pilcher said.
Champions for Justice is now part of the NAACP’s ongoing Criminal Justice program, Scot X. Esdaile, the chair of the NAACP Criminal Justice Committee, said in a statement.
Overall, six young filmmakers between the ages of 18 and 29 were selected to serve on three teams of two as part of the final competition. Filmmakers on the team addressing police violence were Wilson of Baltimore and Emmanuel Barrington Pickens of Saginaw, Michigan.
Filmmakers on the team addressing the school-to-prison pipeline were Tykhari C. Christopher of Newport News, Virginia, and Michelle Cecilia Carter of Washington, D.C.
“Creating ‘JustUs: Living with a Criminal Record’ was an unforgettable experience. I had an opportunity to highlight a perspective about formerly incarcerated individuals that compares to the that of most mainstream media outlets, and I got to do it with people who were also passionate about redefining certain narratives,” Lewis said.