CSUN students win Black AIDS short-film contest

Hilda Yeghishian

Black Entertainment Television, Black AIDS Institute and Kaiser Family Foundation have come together for the third consecutive year to raise awareness among the American population about HIV/AIDS.

They sponsor a contest called Rap-It-Up/Black AIDS Short Subject Film Competition, which awards people who are able to create a short screenplay that discusses the unspoken reality of HIV/AIDS in the most effective and innovative manner.

The screenplay chosen gets produced and funded by the organizations and is aired on BET.

This year a screenplay titled “Odicie” took the winning prize. Wyndle Jordan, Casey Arrillaga and Beverly Abbott wrote the script. Jordan and Arrillaga are currently students in the CSUN music department and Abbott is an alumna of CSUN’s film department.

“Five hundred to 600 films are entered into the contest and only one gets their film made.,” said a representative of the contest during a screening of the film at the All About M.E.E: Black Women and AIDS conference.

“We are trying to get a certain message across. They are judged on time, 30 minutes or less, they have to be made for under $30,000, and they have to concern the topic of HIV/AIDS.”

“We want a film to be something that people would want to watch,” said the representative. The screening was held at The Omni Hotel in Los Angeles.

Their screenplay tells the story of a little girl, Odicie, who is faced with the harsh reality that her family has tried so desperately to keep secret. The audience learns about the issue of AIDS along with the young protagonist and then gets to watch her struggle in her fight to bring together her fallen family.

Jordan said he wanted to raise awareness with the film.

“The reason I wanted to get involved with this movie was because I think this topic (is not talked about) a lot but it is something that people should know about,” Jordan said.

In regard to the taboo nature of the topic, Jordan said, “In the movie Uncle Leon is the pastor at the church and he is not only gay but also has AIDS, this is all taboo in the culture, it is not something that is accepted at all. But it exists everywhere and people just won’t face it.”

Jordan also said that he hates the term “black community” and therefore has coined the term “the culture” when speaking about this issue.

“As far as the culture things go, I was the go-to guy,” he said.

When asked how the idea came about and how the three of them decided to collaborate with one another on this project, Arrillaga said, “We had all been working on little projects and things of our own but this started with a conversation between Beverly, Wyndle and I. We said, ‘What if we did something we actually believed in?'”

“We would talk on the phone and we would go out and just fill notebooks full of ideas. We would throw out ideas and get the ball rolling. For me it was a blast,” he said.

“We bounced ideas off of each other and then someone said, ‘What if we told the story from the point of view of a little girl?”

Although not all of the crew members had direct connections to this issue, they agreed that it was one of importance.

People turn the other cheek when it comes to matters of HIV/AIDS, and if more people would take the time to go and get them tested then maybe this virus could be controlled.

“I think people need to take charge and just do it,” Jordan said.

Their director, Dustin Gould, also a CSUN alumnus from the film department, came into the project after the screenplay had already been selected.

He and Abbott attended school together and had a working relationship from previous projects.

“After Beverly found out she won the contest, I told her I’d be interested in directing if they’d like to have me on board,” Gould said.

Although each of them had a different experience, or none at all, with HIV/AIDS, they each contributed something to the making of the film. Some of the characters were based on real family members.

Uncle Leon, played by Michael Morgan, was based on Arrillaga’s wife’s uncle.

“The ending was more of wishful thinking rather than reality because our family member died before the full resolution took place,” Arrillaga said.

John Maddox, the actor who plays Uncle Leon’s significant other, said he brought in some of his own past experiences into the film.

Other parts of the film were motivated by Arrillaga’s own work in the cause to help fight HIV/AIDS.

“I had been involved in the AIDS cause for a while and so I started asking my daughter about what she knew about it and if their library had any information on it,” he said.

This concept was another aspect that the film touched upon.

His daughter, Jessica Arrillaga, is featured in a small portion at the start of the film.

There was supposed to be a sense of racial tension between Odicie, the main character, and her character when the script was initially written, but due to time issues, that subplot was cut from the film.

“There was a couple of things we had to change that we loved but it is the nature of the beast,” said Rebekah Sindoris, one of the producers of the film.

“The core of the movie remained and we were able to tell the story the way we wanted,” Jordan said.

Arrillaga said that they felt that maybe they were trying to cover to many issues in such a short film.

“Maybe it will end up in the second movie,” he said.

The main character, Odicie, was played a 9-year-old girl named Wynter Daggs.

When her father, Thaxter Daggs, was asked how they dealt with the matter of explaining HIV/AIDS to Wynter he said, “(Her) mother sat her down and explained it all to her. What AIDS are and how you contract it.”

“I have to say the movie taught me more about AIDS and as the movie continued I learned more about how it worked,” Wynter said.

She is currently acting and modeling and has been doing so for the past three years.

In the future she wants to be pursue an acting and singing career. She said the people involved were her favorite part of making the film.

“You get to meet a lot of new people and so far they have been really nice,” she said.

Morgan agrees that working with a great cast and crew is one of the most gratifying experiences for an actor but said that a great role is even more gratifying. He said that this film captured both of those aspects.

“This film reminds us to keep on keeping on,” he said. “I like entertainment and action adventure but I really love films which have the ability to change lives and make a difference.”

Jordan said it is great that a company as large as BET wants to bring this issue awareness, even though the American public is so quick to dismiss it.

“I wanted this to be addressed because even if it affects one person that is better then nothing,” he said.

Even with such a small budget they were able to create a great product, Sindoris said.

“Most everyone who worked on the film did not get paid, or did so very minimally,” she said.

“They mostly did it because of their love for the film. It is very much a labor of love.”

“We were actually planning on making the film even if it didn’t win. We figured someone somewhere had to have the money to fund it,” said Arrillaga.

“When working with people it needs to be like working with family because you need to be able to critique each other and talk about it so as to get the best product,” said Abbott.

“It was a great collaboration. We brought together different experiences and put it together, creating a beginning, a middle and end.”

“This was a large collaboration. I brought tidbits of my own stuff but my main goal was to make their vision happen,” said Gould.

“I didn’t enter the contest, these are the winners and I wanted to help bring their vision to life and I hope I accomplished that.” The H
IV/AIDS epidemic is still moving full force.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that on a yearly basis approximately 40,000 people are diagnosed with HIV.

More than 900,000 people have been diagnosed with AIDS in the U.S. since the first outbreak, reports the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, but yet to this day the topic remains taboo in the black community.

“Odicie” premieres on Sunday, Feb. 18 at 12:30 p.m on BET.