This article is reprinted courtesy of Richmond Magazine, April 22, 2018
Putting Dreams on Screen
Richmond native Tamika Lamison creates cinematic legacies for terminally ill children
April 22, 2018
Richmond native Tamika Lamison, an award-winning actress and filmmaker based in Los Angeles, was juggling several projects when 16-year-old Anthony Conti’s grandmother contacted her two years ago.
Conti, who lived in Boston, had recently been diagnosed with stage 4 adrenal cortical cancer, discovered while the young man was in a summer film camp. Given just a few months to live, Conti knew about Lamison’s Make a Film Foundation, which grants “film wishes” to children who have serious or life-threatening medical conditions. The children are teamed with notable actors, writers and directors who help them create short film legacies.
Conti “wanted to show the world what he could do,” his grandmother told Lamison, who created MAFF in 2007 and is the organization’s producer and executive director.
When Conti’s request came in, in addition to running MAFF Lamison was working in the education department at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences and navigating various film projects. With Conti’s very serious diagnosis, she didn’t believe there was enough time to make Conti’s film. But in speaking with others about the young man’s work, Lamison changed her mind.
On Saturday afternoon, April 28, at The Byrd Theatre, Conti’s film “The Black Ghiandola,” will be the “spotlight” feature during the Richmond International Film & Music Festival. Created through Lamison’s foundation, the film is about a young man, played by Conti, who risks his life saving a young girl he has grown to love after his family has been killed during a zombie apocalypse.
In addition to Conti, the film stars J.K.Simmons, Johnny Depp, David Lynch, Laura Dern and Chad L. Coleman (“The Walking Dead”). The film’s cowriters are Scott Kosar (“Texas Chainsaw Massacre”) and Wash Westmoreland (“Still Alice”). Producers included Lamison, Adele Rene and Bettina Fisher, with consulting producers Peter Farrelly and Sean Furst.
Because Conti was critically ill, Lamison had to work fast in assembling a team to make his screenplay into a film. It was completed shortly before Conti’s death in January 2017. Lamison relied on her strong network and reputation to secure and coordinate the 100 to 250 people who donated their time to work on the film.
“I went to people who I knew would want to be involved, such as Chad Coleman,” she says. “Chad always says yes. Those two weeks [of filming] were the fastest I ever worked, but also the most magical and intense. Everyone — big stars and celebrities — said yes.”
Lamison describes making films with terminally ill young people “bittersweet.” Such films are creating a legacy and voice to share that will live forever, she explains.
Anthony Conti on the set of “The Black Ghiandola” (Goodluck Road Photography by Jenna Hagel courtesy Make a Film Foundation)
“These kids really understand what they’re doing. Anthony verbalized very clearly and directly that he wanted to live even though his doctors told him he was going to die. That was the most difficult part. So we tried to reframe it by saying, ‘Your work will allow you to live forever.’ So when I see the film I say, ‘There’s Anthony.’ But I do have to compartmentalize things, and there are times when [his death] hits me directly.”
Before flying to Richmond for the film festival, Lamison, 48, talked about the acting and filmmaking journey that began in right here in her hometown. Lamison is a 1987 graduate of Huguenot High School and a former member of Richmond’s Jazz Actors Troupe. After graduating from American University with a degree in performing arts and theater, she moved to New York, performed in several stage shows and wrote her first screenplay, “The Jar by the Door,” which was a Sundance Finalist and won the Gordon Parks Indie Film Award. She then attended the New York Film Academy to learn filmmaking and graduated having made her first short film.
After gaining her filmmaking chops, Lamison moved to Los Angeles and won several fellowships and awards in writing and directing, including the ABC/Walt Disney Fellowship in Screenwriting for “Memoirs of a Virgin Whore,” the Guy Hanks and Marvin Miller Fellowship, the CBS Director’s Initiative and AFI’s Directing Workshop for Women Fellowship, in which she wrote, directed and produced the multi-award-winning short film “Hope.” She also directed BET’s first reality TV show, “College Hill”; produced the award-winning “The Male Groupie,” which aired on HBO; and produced and directed the short film ”Spin.”
More recently she produced and starred in the feature film “Last Life,” with Michael Phillip Edwards, who also wrote and directed the film, and Coleman, Lamison’s close friend who also hails from Richmond. The film, which recently won Best Film, Best Actor and Best Actress at the Houston Black Film Festival, also will be shown during the Richmond International Film Festival’s spotlight session on April 28.
Through MAFF, Tamika has produced three award-winning narrative short films working with directors such as Patricia Cardoso (“Real Women Have Curves”) and others. Another film, “The Magic Bracelet,” was adapted by Academy Award-winning writer Diablo Cody (“Juno”) and continues to win awards on the film festival circuit.
While pleased with the success she has achieved in the film and entertainment industry, Lamison recognizes that much work remains for women to gain more and equal opportunities. She recently emerged as a voice for the “Me Too” movement after revealing her own sexual harassment experience with NBC talk show host Megyn Kelly.
On Kelly’s February 7 show, Lamison described her unwanted sexual encounter in 1996 with Vincent Cirrincione, a well-known talent agent credited for building the careers of African-American actresses such as Halle Berry and Taraji P. Henson. Her comments came after accusations of sexual misconduct by nine actresses last winter. Cirrincione, 70, closed his talent agency three days before Lamison appeared on Kelly’s show.
Lamison says she decided to share her story on national television because “even though I said no and shut down the manager’s advances and his ‘proposition’ of managing me for ‘favors,’ he should never have abused his power in that way. And it did affect me.”
Since the Megyn Kelly segment aired, Lamison says she now feels “a sense of relief” and has received nothing but support, including an invitation to speak at the recent Congressional Caucus on Black Women and Girls’ Empowerment conference in New York. “I felt compelled to share my story so that other women, especially those who had more horrible and profound experiences, would be encouraged to share their voices as well.”
Equally important, she says, was her desire to support other women who’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted; to remind people that the “Me Too” movement was created 10 years ago by Tarana Burke, an African-American woman; and to “put it behind me with forgiveness and healing.”
Before her encounter with Cirrincione, Lamison’s fate as a celebrated film and stage actress seemed to be sealed.
“I believe that perhaps the reason I was so attracted to continuing my work behind the scenes is that in some ways I found more power in producing, writing and directing,” says Lamison. “It empowered me in a different way.”
Never miss a Sunday Story: Sign up for the newsletter, and we’ll drop a fresh read into your inbox at the start of each week. To keep up with the latest posts, search for the hashtag #SundayStory on Twitter and Facebook.