Student Director Dottin Screens Films for PA

Not many aspiring filmmakers get the opportunity to view two award-winning films in the same audience as the Academy Award-winning writer and director; even fewer get the opportunity to have dinner with him beforehand and interview him the next day. This, however, is exactly the opportunity that was presented to me with Randall Dottin. Dottin’s first film, A-Alike, won a Student Academy Award for Best Narrative Film in 2004. His second film, Lifted, won Best Picture at the Roxbury Film Festival and has been recognized across the country. He screened both of his films in Kemper Auditorium on Thursday evening, and he later hosted a Q&A lunch in CAMD on Friday that was open to all students. “To whom much is given, much is required,” Dottin said when asked what he felt was most important for students to take away from his visit. “I think that a lot of people, when they become really successful, they tend to forget where they came from. It doesn’t matter who you are; figure out what your responsibility is to your community and find out a way to honor that responsibility by helping someone who is less fortunate then you are.” Thomas Kane, an instructor in the English department, organized Dottin’s visit with a grant from the Abbot Academy Association. Kane and Dottin had previously taught together at St. Sebastian’s School in Needham, Massachusetts, where Dottin went to high school. “I think [Dottin’s visit] accomplished what I’d hoped—inspiring students in film, English and at CAMD, as well as making people aware of his fine films,” said Kane. Throughout his high school career and into his undergraduate years at Dartmouth College, Dottin was primarily interested in theater, and he wanted to be a playwright. He was an avid actor, and one year he went on an Interlochen tour through the British Isles performing the French play “The Little Prince.” On one of his stops in London, Dottin came across an article about two esteemed African American artists: director Spike Lee and playwright August Wilson. “[The article] talked about how they wanted to include their culture in their artistic endeavors like they had never seen done before on film or on stage,” said Dottin. After reading the article, Dottin realized that he wanted not only to write stories, but he also wanted to put them on film. After being admitted into several prestigious graduate schools for playwrighting and film, he chose to attend Columbia University’s film school. He wrote and directed his first two films, both short films approximately 30 minutes long. He is now working on the production of his first feature-length film, “Indelible.” Though he did not write the script for it, he still feels a strong attachment to the plot and purpose of the film. He said, “All of my films are autobiographical, whether I write them or not.” The first film of the evening, A-Alike, was his masters project at Columbia and tells the story of two brothers who live in two completely different worlds. One brother is a successful business executive. He goes to pick up his older brother, a convict who is just getting out of jail. The film follows the two through that day, where they have to confront the many issues dividing them in order to make their way towards a fresh start. A-Alike won several awards and earned Dottin the title of Best African American Student director. He was then recruited by Fox Searchlight and given funding to create a second film, entitled Lifted. Lifted uses elements of dance and magic realism to “tell a story of loss and recovery; of someone who loses themselves and gains themselves,” as Dottin described it. Lifted follows Deena, a young, single mother, and her son Toussaint through a tumultuous and emotional day. After Toussaint inadvertently interrupts his mother in her dance audition, distracting her and causing her to fall, the two of them go eat lunch at a small pizza parlor, where Toussaint’s disobedient behavior pushes Deena over the edge. She leaves and, crying, abandons her son and runs to the subway, which is mysteriously empty. There, she encounters High John, who locks the two of them in the empty subway station and tells her: “Everybody’s got a story. You lost yours. We gotta get it back.” Although Lifted sends a message that is difficult to portray in such a short film, Dottin’s creativity shines through and makes the viewer understand and sympathize with Deena’s perspective. Dottin said, “As an artist, you need to be able to push beyond what you think your experience is. There’s no growth inside a comfort zone.”