Chicago's Paradigm Grey Creates New Perspectives in Black Cinema

Chicago's Paradigm Grey Creates New Perspectives in Black Cinema
courtesy of Paradigm Grey

Christopher Adams is the brainchild behind the initiative Paradigm Grey, a space where black perspectives can be heard. As the captain of this vessel, Adams has acquired five other filmmakers to complete the anthology of short films. The Paradigm Grey project hopes to showcase black stories, whose voices have been muted for many years. It focuses on developing black cinema in science fiction, horror, and fantasy, while later expanding into young adult fiction (YA) and comics, etc.

The collaborative consists of a diverse team of writers, directors, cinematographers, actors, editors, visual effects and makeup, martial arts/military experts, and marketing consultants. The collection highlights six particular short films: Omega Strategem, Outer Layers, Bloodlines, Headshot, Axis Mundi, and Reset. For this event, I requested to attend as a film critic, eagerly awaiting to comment on my experiences and the content, composition, technical construction, and interpretation of the anthology. This article, however, will serve mostly as a capsule review, or brief summary of each piece of work.

courtesy of Paradigm Grey

Chris Adams photo: courtesy of Paradigm Grey

On the brisk evening of December 2, 2017, I arrived at the Harold Washington Cultural Center. I opened the doors and stepped into a phenomenal experience. A warm and amicable atmosphere engulfed my existence, as I observed guests buzzing about with light conversation and cocktails. The foyer was packed with ticketholders/supporters, family and friends, while the step and repeat included opportunities for photographs with directors and props, including the infamous robot in Christopher Adams’ short film Reset.

Inside the theater, Jimalita Tillman, the executive director, took to the stage and welcomed the guests to the HWCC and explained programs that benefit youth and the community. Then, Erika Porter, the host and marketing executive, emerged introducing the Paradigm Grey Anthology.

courtesy of Paradigm Grey

courtesy of Paradigm Grey

The program began with Omega Strategem, a sci-fi short film by Christopher Adams (Impakt Studios). In the crisp winter snow, a mysterious man in a suit carries a briefcase. While arriving at the destination, he opens the briefcase within an enclave that contains peculiar, yet magical contents. As he performs a sacred ceremony, he is suddenly transformed into another being. This abstract being becomes the host of the Paradigm Grey Anthology, who guides the audience through a rare and existential journey for each segment. The actor for Omega Stratagem piece includes Harold Dennis and Jeffrey Robinson (“Buk” from Psychodrama) as the voice of the Omega Host.

courtesy of Paradigm Grey

courtesy of Paradigm Grey

Outer Layers is a short sci-fi film by writer/director Tommy Sigmon (aka “Lomai” under 21H2). The main character, Everett struggles to cope with the fact that he has not been in communication with his brother Landon, who left for a military assignment and never returned. Everett and his father, (Everett, Sr.) must let Landon go, concluding the outcome of death. Both Everett and his father disagree on most things and tension ensues among them. He is also reminded of the limitations of his opportunities when going on a job interview, because of his African American heritage. Suddenly, Everett is offered a way out of his madness by an unforeseen and enigmatic event. Outer Layers  has a comedic sense with several twists and turns. The writer/director, Lomai briefly addresses social, political, and family constructs. He captures the essence of the plight of black men in our culture today and the choices that are afforded to them or lack thereof. This is a sci-fi horror film, but it’s not what you think. I was blown away by this film! The cast of Outer Layers includes David Leonard as Everett Waters Jr., Nick Costello also as Everett Waters Jr., Sarah Kopp as Dani Roziak, Walt Sloan as Thaddeus Sutton, Arch Harmon as Everett Waters Sr., Chris Aruffo as Landon Waters, and Ripper Brown also as Landon Waters.

courtesy of Paradigm Grey

courtesy of Paradigm Grey

Bloodlines is a horror film written and directed by David  Johnson (SEI Studios). Gail Smith receives a letter from her mother, Galina, who had given her up for adoption as a baby. Gail and her boyfriend discuss the angst she feels about the impending reunion with her mother. She reflects upon the outcome of this long-awaited encounter. Gail hesitates when she gets to the door of her mother’s apartment. She realizes that once she enters the threshold, she can never go back. Gail is looking for answers to her past and uncovers much more than she bargained for in Bloodlines. This short was a creative piece of horror and I appreciated the special effects and humor infused into the segment by filmmaker David Johnson. The main actors include Hannah Bonecutter as Gail Smith and Coco Elysses as Galina/Gaia.

courtesy of Cassandra Bell Studios.com

Cassandra Bell photo: courtesy of Cassandra Bell Studios.com

Headshot is a sci-fi film written and directed by Cassandra Bell (Cassandra Bell Studios). The main character Salome is a young, burgeoning photographer. However, there is something rather odd about her. Whenever she takes photographs of men, they come up missing. Salome is rare seductive beauty and has a particular eye for young attractive men. Who is she and what is her past? Headshot gives a glimpse of the story of a dominating mystical female character. Cassandra Bell’s strong female arc shines through, while Bell’s theatrical background emerges with elaborate detailed scenes of costuming and makeup. The main actors include Nikki Lynette as Salome and Ron Russell as Wes Slaughter.

courtesy of Paradigm Grey

courtesy of Paradigm Grey

Axis Mundi is a sci-fi fantasy film by Jonathan Woods and Ted Crowder (Bright Seed Studios). In this segment, a teenager, named Malik is approaching transition to his next stage of life. His parents, Cerul and Celeste are not sure that they have prepared him for what is to come next. One day his father (Cerul) introduces him to a strange and unusual phenomenon. Malik has several questions that need to be answered before his next phase of evolution. Axis Mundi is a fantastical world of endless possibilities and a creative coming-of-age story. Will Malik find what he is looking for on the other side of the mountain? This fantasy sci-fi film takes you through the vibrant and magical world of “what ifs”. The main actors include Andre Teamer as Cerul / Father, Destin Teamer as Malik / son, Cher Jey as Celeste / Mother, Arch Harmon as Granddad.

courtesy of Paradigm Grey

courtesy of Paradigm Grey

Lastly, Reset is a film in the last installment in the series for Paradigm Grey. This sci-fi film is also written and directed by creator Christopher Adams. In this segment, a soldier is the last one left in his platoon. He calls for reinforcements and backup. However, no one ever comes. He vows to confront and kill one of the last machines during a conflict that he considers the “the war to end all wars”. In the cold, desolate rubble, he is only comforted with the warmth of memories of his loving wife and her hologram message. Reset weaves a tale of love and survival, taking the observer through a jarring emotional exploration of hot and cold polarities. The main characters are Harold Dennis as the soldier and Nicole Reed as the soldier’s wife.

Afterward, the panel discussion was led by event host Ericka Porter (executive de and moderated by Simeon Henderson, WCIU media personality. The panel consisted of writers/directors: Christopher Adams, Hana “Blaq” Mitchell (editor/producer), David Johnson, Jonathan Woods, Tommy Sigmon (Lomai), Cassandra Bell, and Harold Dennis (actor).

For more details  about the anthology of short films,
Go to Paradigm Grey.com

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