By Courtney Fowler, President
The silence that fell across the room after watching Alrick Brown’s four-minute short film that highlighted historical lynching in America was a profound silence indescribable to those who were not present; the type of silence that makes you hesitant to make even the slightest move or take a breath. As the bright lights flickered to life overhead and my eyes readjusted to my surroundings in Thomas Auditorium, Brown quietly said, for the second time in his presentation, “When I take the time to tell a story, it needs to matter.”
Brown, who was dressed from head to toe in black clothing and spoke with a slight Jamaican accent, is currently working as an Assistant Professor of Undergraduate Film and Television at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Though his dedication and passion for teaching is what drives him, it is his love for film and inspirational life story that truly catches the attention of his audience.
Originally from Kingston Jamaica, Brown immigrated to the United States as a young boy, shortly after the brutal murder of his father when he was just three years old. With such dramatic life events, coupled with a constant feeling of being an outsider in his newly established New Jersey home, Brown found himself seeing the world in a different light. A self-called “natural observer,” Brown began noticing stories around him that others did not see; the stories of individuals that were not being told.
In one particularly transformative experience, Brown traveled in West Africa to see the famous slave castles in Ghana, an experience he now credits as the moment he realized his future as a writer and film director.
“Visiting the slave castles in Ghana was stimulating, it was historically painful, emotional; every fiber in my being was going off. The walls were still stained black with blood,” explained Brown. “As I looked around, I thought to myself, ‘How can I ever explain this experience to others and make them feel what I do?’”
From this life-changing moment in Ghana, Brown fearlessly and relentlessly pursued his dream to tell the stories of those who were not being heard, those who could no longer tell the story themselves. Specifically describing his tactics as “looking at the world with your head tilted slightly toward the side,” Brown discussed the obstacles he faced throughout his career and the challenges of bringing a story to film.
“Art is created within limitations,” said Brown. “We are constantly bound by rules. Take for instance, a Shakespearean sonnet: fourteen lines, three quatrains, and the final couplet. The sonnet is bound by a structure that miraculously gives it meaning and purpose.”
In the final moments of his presentation, Brown presented a behind the scenes look at the making of his Sundance World Cinema Audience Award winning film, “Kinyarwanda.” Maintaining his mission to tell the hidden stories of those otherwise unseen, the film brought together six true stories of individuals who lived through the horrors and survived the Rwandan genocide. Through his work, Brown not only gave a voice to these remarkable individuals, but inspired many in the process.
Moving forward, Brown plans to continue to devote his time seeking out the stories that matter; the ones that change the way people feel and see the world. His most anticipated project is one that features a documentary of children in Jamaica who hold a quiz show competition in their spare time.
Brown was graciously brought to UMF for his presentation by the Honors department, specifically the Honors First-Year Seminar, Travelers’ Tales: Outward Journeys, Inner Truths.