Despite not being cast, Richmond native Tamika Lamison was bitten hard by the acting bug as a child at an audition with her brother for a community production of "The Wiz."
Their love of theater was nurtured at the Richmond All City Theatrical Guild during high school and after college they were involved in the Richmond Jazz Ensemble led by the late Ernie McClintock. Her first screenplay, "Jar by the Door," was a Sundance Film Festival finalist, winning her $10,000 which allowed her to move to Los Angeles to write, direct and produce.
Lamison's newest feature film, "Last Life," which she produced and stars in, will be shown Saturday during a spotlight block at the Richmond International Film and Music Festival, which runs April 23 through 29. At the Houston Black Film Festival, it took the best film prize, along with best actress and best actor.
If "Get Out" was a race film disguised as a psychological thriller, "Last Life" is a race film disguised as a love story.
Several things appealed to Lamison about the script of "Last Life," including that she and writer and director Michael Phillip Edwards had worked together for years. They'd had many philosophical conversations about the subject of past lives and healing in an attempt to explore what might happen in a last life.
"We joke with each other about it because I say this is my last life and that he has a couple of more to go before he can move on," Lamison says from Los Angeles. "We wanted to tell a love story about two people who've shared many lives together but have some healing and understanding to come to before they leave for good." Exploring that enabled them to mine the discussion of race and how past shared lives have impacted race and our understanding of race relations.
Edwards says his goal as a filmmaker is two-pronged. "First, to entertain with a story you feel you've never seen before and to provoke healing through self reflection," Edwards says. "I love speaking to audiences after seeing 'Last Life' and watching as the conversation moves from how they feel about the story of our film to how they feel personally about the issues raised by the film. This makes me happy."
The seventh annual Richmond International Film Festival, like South by Southwest, programs a wide range of film and music during its weeklong run: music videos, web series, experimental, animated and documentary short films, narrative and documentary feature films — with the goal of finding distributors for them.
"There's incredible talent here," explains Heather Waters, founder and producer of the festival. "The disconnect was there was no distribution platform for the talent. This festival was envisioned as a way to offer a competitive type of distribution platform and launch the careers of filmmakers and musicians."
The festival features more than 150 award-winning film premiers from 35 countries — including Australia, Brazil, Cuba and France —- and more than 50 bands, panels and daily events around Richmond. Additionally, there'll be talks by guests, including actor and producer Danny Glover ("Lethal Weapon"), who stars in the closing night film, "Buckout Road" a horror thriller directed by Matthew Currie Holmes. Actress and producer Kate Bosworth and filmmaker Michael Polish will present their film "Nona" about sex trafficking on opening night, with a question session afterward.
A documentary short, "Daddy" tells the story of youth basketball coach and drug trafficker, Curtis Malone, whose double life eventually caught up with him. Besides Curtis, the film includes interviews with NBA players he coached, the federal agents who investigated him, and the U.S. attorney who prosecuted him.
Capping off the festival on Sunday at the historic Byrd Theatre are the annual Red Carpet awards, where prizes decided by the grand jury and audience are awarded in various categories.
"We're showing big names and first-time filmmakers, yet a lot of people in Richmond still don't know what a weeklong festival is like," Waters says of the challenges of programming so many events. "It's the kind of major event you usually have to travel for and we've got it right here in our backyard."
Richmond International Film and Music Festival is held April 23-29 at various venues. Opening night at the Byrd takes place on Tuesday, April 24 at 7:15 p.m. with Kate Bosworth and her husband Michael Polish in attendance. Visit rvafilmfestival.com for a listing.