Danville native and New York resident Jasmine Freeman brought some movie-making excitement to George Washington High School last month when she shot a short film at the school and other parts of the city.
Freeman is directing a short film, “Ellipsis,” depicting the life of a teenage African American girl, Cassie, struggling with depression and anxiety caused by a toxic home life.
Key scenes of the film were shot at GW and in the North Main Street area on Dec. 13 and 14, and other parts are being shot in New York. Freeman plans to return to Danville in February to film in other sections of the city.
During an interview via telephone Wednesday, Freeman said she wanted to shed light on mental illness among youth.
“I feel like young people are overlooked in the discussion about mental illness,” said Freeman, 23.
Also, it’s especially difficult in communities of color where it’s not really talked about, she said.
The movie will be about 10 to 15 minutes long and will premiere in New York in March. Freeman plans to show the film in Danville in April or May.
Jasmine graduated from GW in 2014 and went on to earn an arts and sciences degree with a concentration in film and theater from Rutgers University in Newark, New Jersey.
Her mother, Loretha Anderson, recalled Freeman telling her during her freshman year about how passionate she was about getting into film.
“She poured her heart out,” Anderson said. “I’m a nurse. She said that’s not what she wanted to do.”
Anderson felt that her daughter shouldn’t enter a conventional field just because everyone else is doing it.
“I’m very proud of her,” Anderson said.
Freeman said she also wants to set a good example for her 16-year-old sister.
As for Freeman’s struggle with anxiety and depression, she sees a therapist weekly and talks to classrooms about mental illness. She wants to show her film to students in Danville and let them know about treatment options.
During Freeman’s childhood in Danville, watching movies and television shows was a way to bond with her mother and sister.
“I’ve always been interested in it [film-making] as a way for me to connect with people,” Freeman said.
Writing for GW’s student-published literary magazine, Euantes, helped Freeman find her artistic voice and hone her skills. Sharon Leigg, who led the Euantes class, was an inspiration for Freeman.
Danville Schools Superintendent Stanley Jones had nothing but praise for Freeman and added that she is an example of a “return on the investment” made by both the school system’s taxpayers and the teachers who instructed her.
“I’m very inspired by her,” Jones said, adding the city’s high school graduates don’t get the recognition they deserve.
“We spend so much time focusing on what’s not going well and not what’s going well,” he said.
GW’s arts and music programs are well- developed and high- performing and Freeman is a product of that, he added.
At Rutgers, attending film premieres sparked an interest in directing for Freeman.
“I was just so amazed,” she said. “I said, ‘I think I can do this.’”
Freeman gained experience directing and stage managing theater productions — skills she would use in film. Under Rutgers’s video production program, she wrote, directed and edited her first short film, “A Woman’s Reflection,” which was selected for the 2017 Newark International Film Festival.
She moved to New York in 2018 and had several internships before deciding to move toward making films independently.
She received a $3,000 grant through Staten Island Arts in New York to direct “Ellipsis.” That money covers part of the cost of her production.
She filmed classroom scenes and exterior shots at GW.
Staten Island Arts is an arts organization that “cultivates a sustainable and diverse cultural community for the people of Staten Island,” where Freeman lives.
Freeman plans to submit her film to festivals.
She wants to make sure people of color are accurately represented in media, entertainment and the arts and not just depicted as stereotypes, “to show we have real, human experiences.”
“There are a lot of stereotypes, but that is slowly changing,” she said. “We’re seeing more diversity of content.”
However, there is still a huge disparity, she added. Freeman wants to see more diversity not just on screen but behind the scenes as well — writers, directors and crew members.
One of her favorite filmmakers includes Ava DuVernay, who directed, wrote and produced “I Will Follow” and “Middle of Nowhere,” and directed and executive produced “Selma.” She also directed the more recent “A Wrinkle in Time.”
“She has a strong message, but it’s not preachy,” Freeman said.
Freeman also admires Lena Waithe, who produced 2014’s “Dear White People,” and wrote the screenplay for “Queen & Slim,” Dee Rees (“Pariah,” “Bessie” and “Mudbound”), and Barry Jenkins (“Moonlight” and “If Beale Street Could Talk”).
“I like how they tell their stories,” Freeman said. “It’s very warm, slow-paced but really interesting. It doesn’t feel like they’re rushing.”
Freeman would like to eventually make feature films.
Crane reports for the Register & Bee. He can be reached at (434) 791-7987.