The Black Film Center/Archive congratulates Joyce “Eli” and Jean “Lu” Bevins on receiving the Elfenworks Social Justice Award from the Campus MovieFest Hollywood (CMF) for their short film, Systematic Living. Eli, a second-year Masters student in the Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing, recently joined the BFC/A staff as a summer archive assistant.
Campus MovieFest (CMF), the world’s largest student film festival, hosted its 13th annual CMF Hollywood student film summit from June 19-22, 2014 at Universal Studios. Each student contestant delivers a 5 minute-or less-short film, with only a week to shoot the film and submit it. Speaking about the event, the CMF website stated:
Nearly 1,000 student filmmakers, family and friends from 60 participating college campuses attended the weekend of events including educational workshops, advanced screenings, networking and professional opportunities, screenings of over 200 in-competition short films, and the glamorous red carpet CMF Hollywood Awards at the Universal Globe Theatre!
Systematic Living was submitted by Eli Lu Productions, the production company that Eli started in 2009 with her twin sister, Jean “Lu” Bevins. Their film, Systematic Living, is about a young woman who uses spoken word to spread hope and change as her dreams are a constant reminder of her harsh reality, as she lives in an economically disadvantaged neighborhood. The short was filmed, directed, and produced by Jean, while Eli edited, wrote, directed, and starred in the film as the character Niya. As a winner, the sisters will receive $10,000 toward their next film project and their film will be aired on Virgin America Airlines.
BFC/A staff member Katrina Overby had the opportunity to interview Joyce “Eli” Bevins about her filmmaking career and her inspiration for her film, Systematic Living. Below is a portion of their conversation that took place via email:
KO: First off, congratulations on your award! How long have you been into filmmaking?
JB: Thank you. Well my twin sister and I started Eli Lu Productions in 2009 on the campus of Elizabeth City State University. However, in our first couple of years we only focused on writing, directing and producing stage plays that eventually led to filmmaking. We decided to film one of our stage plays as a web series in 2011-2012 to reach a larger audience. Following the web series we began doing short films and documentaries. And that is pretty much how we got involved in filmmaking.
KO: When or how did you find out about the Campus MovieFest (CMF) and when did you decide that you wanted to enter a film into the contest? What made you choose the social justice category?
JB: A cast member of mine in the “Revolution” emergent theater experience showcase here on campus introduced me to CMF. He explained that students have to shoot and submit their films in less than a week for the competition. At that moment my sister and I decided that we were up for the challenge and wanted to express our creativity through film. We decided to enter the social justice category because we wanted to create a film that changes the way people think and a film that would bring awareness to poverty, crime, and injustice in America. Also, we recently produced the “Mill Creek Documentary: Past, Present, and Future” film in Philadelphia, PA, which highlights issues surrounding poverty and crime that once plague the Mill Creek Community. We thought about this film and decided that we wanted to create another film that will empower and influence change.
KO: As your film Systematic Living discusses the struggle of economic disadvantages, poverty, injustice, and crime, where did you get the inspiration for the theme of the film? Where was the location of the film?
JB: The concept “systematic living” is a term my sister created and would often use back in high school to explain our economy. The inspiration for the film comes from our experience of growing up in West Philadelphia. Unfortunately, some areas in Philadelphia have high crime rates, poverty and blight. These things would often keep us up at night, from loud gunshots in the middle of the night to sirens that would often meet us in our dreams. From looking at our economy, even I used to question if it was possible to dream physically and metaphorically. So we wanted our film to be the voice of the youth growing up in such environments. That is where the inspiration came from. We filmed everything in Bloomington and around IU’s campus for the most part. For the competition we were ONLY allowed to use about 30 seconds of old footage. The shots of poverty are actually from our Mill Creek Documentary that we filmed in Philadelphia.
KO: How did you decide to use poetry as a way to interpret and present the message of the film? Was this an original piece written by you?
JB: My sister and I are both poets. We often use poetry as a way of expression, storytelling and even the way we often dealt/deal with pain. We decided to use poetry to convey the message to our audience because we figured this medium would be captivating. We also wanted our audience to be moved by the poem. And yes, the poem was an original piece that I wrote. Honestly, it was written from the point of view of how I once felt as a teen and how many others felt/feel.
KO: How long was the process for putting this film together? In terms of writing the script, filming, and editing?
JB: Well, originally we wanted to cast people to act out the story line but since we were against time and could not find actors in one week, my sister and I decided to do a “one-man-show”. We altered the story so that I could do all the parts including pulling the trigger, and playing the homeless person, etc. We did two days of filming on the 3rd day of the filming week. Walking across campus we would just say, “Oh lets film here or there”. A lot of the filming was just on the spot shots from walking across campus or around Bloomington. The night before submission we decided not to finish the project but changed our minds around midnight. I stayed up all night with no sleep to get it finished. To be exact I finished editing just a little over two hours before it was due.
KO: Were you and your sister on the “same page” in terms of how you wanted the film to look aesthetically and what you wanted the message to be? Who was the “brains” behind the project?
JB: My sister and I agreed on the overall theme and category that we wanted to enter for the competition. However, we kept changing the story line because we did not have the actors to portray the story. We had plenty of disagreements during the filming process. We did not think that we would be able to get our message across with no actors. This is one of the reasons why we decided not to finish the project the night before but eventually changed our minds and allowed the poem to deliver the message.
KO: What is your next film project you’re working on?
JB: My sister and I are currently working on our first thriller and screenplay that we wrote together called “When Karma Calls”. We are also planning to work on a poetry web show in the fall. Separately we both have our own screenplays that we are working on.
Please see the following link to view Systematic Living:
http://www.campusmoviefest.com/movies/32749-systematic-living (video: Systematic Living)
Follow this link to Eli Lu Productions website:
http://www.campusmoviefest.com/hollywood/ (CMF Website)