His Silence Speaks Loudly

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(Filmmaker Mateen Kemet, right)

Film director Mateen Kemet plans to make films that correctly represent African culture and speak to the audience on a realistic level. 

A filmmaker since 1997, Mateen has written and directed six short films, several screenplays and one music video.  He is the winner of the FESPACO Film Festival 2005 Best Director Award for his film short “Silence.”  FESPACO, held in Burkina Faso, West Africa, is the largest Arts Festival in the African diaspora.  PRAI (Promoting Reel African Images, formerly known as the Paul Robeson Award Initiative) presented the award.  Silence addresses the often hidden and shameful reality of child abuse.

A former Wall Street bond trader, Kemet currently teaches in San Francisco. “I have worked with young people who have a story to tell. Often, it’s the hidden, shameful story of abuse.  Via my students, this tale has been told to me repeatedly.  I hear this story mainly from girls but sexual abuse happens to boys as well.  For example, I was once affiliated with a program that dealt specifically with empowering young black boys, some who were dealing with sexual identity issues stemming from paternal abuse,” said Kemet. “Sexual abuse is the ultimate betrayal of a child by an adult, and the shame stays with the victims all their lives,” reveals the young filmmaker who wanted to bring this tragedy to the fore through his film. “I have learned that we are often an amalgam of our childhood.  Every major thing that happens in our childhood somehow forms us for both good and bad.  If you have low self-esteem or you are an aggressive go-getter for instance, most likely, it started when you were a child.”

His experiences have enabled Mateen to discern the signs of sexual abuse, and through Silence he was able to visually articulate one young woman’s struggle.  Notable signs of abuse include a child not wanting to be alone with adults, appearing enraged, frightened, or acting out.  Sometimes, they even behave in an abnormal sexual manner.  “My film is very complex,” stated Mateen.  “I am proud that I presented it in layers.  It is not a simple formula of rape. For instance, there are three main characters whose individual perspectives are shown within the film.  Through the male character’s perspective, I explore the perceived power within manhood and touch on what would make this man delve into incest.  It’s not about sex, it’s about power.  What does it mean to be a man, especially a black man in our community?  If you want to say there is a sense of powerlessness, then we have to talk about the socioeconomic relevance.  An individual, who feels inept and powerless, may seek to implement power over something or someone they can control.  A child is controllable because a child does not have the wherewithal to reject a predator’s advances.  Children don’t know how to react in such a scenario.  Therefore, most predators prey on the weak. There is an old saying: It is the very small individual who can be tall only when someone else is on their knees” explained Mateen of the predator psyche. 

Born and raised in the Bronx, New York, Mateen had always been the kid who went to the movies and picked scenes apart; little did he realize that he was already sewing the seeds of his directorial future.  Though he excelled in football, his mother insisted he further his education. Kemet earned a degree in Economics at San Francisco State and later a MFA in Film and Television Production at Chapman University.  In 1998, his dramedy “Who’s the Mack?” helped Mateen win the Marion Knott Fellowship and introduced him to noted film and theater director Arthur Hiller.  

He was appointed the Chapman University Film Student of the Year; received student filmmaker award from the Directors Guild of America and his MFA Thesis film short “Silence” won 2nd Place at the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame.  Silence has screened in over 60 festivals worldwide, winning 15 awards.  He also shot a music video for opera singer Oyendasola.  Currently Mateen is developing a documentary about Charter Schools, directing Oakland b Mine -- a short film in Oakland, California and the Sundarbans Tiger –a children’s book on tape.  The script for the Sundarbans Tiger recently won Best Screenplay at the 2006 San Francisco Black Film Festival.

“I have always been political and outspoken and felt I had something to say, which led me to the Black Studies movement at San Francisco State.”  His interest in Egypt and Kemetic Science bolstered his need to correct the misinformation surrounding the African diaspora experience chronicled in the records of Western Civilization. “I wanted to be a part of the inertia that is the affirmation of Africa.  That is why I regret I couldn’t attend the FESPACO Film Festival.  However, it’s probably good I didn’t, because had I sat among an African audience and received my Best Director Award for a Short Film, it would have culminated in the ultimate achievement.”

Filmmakers seeking to submit films to FESPACO/PRAI should know the second cycle deadline for consideration is August 31, 2006 and the third and final cycle is December 30, 2006.  Early submission offers the best chance for consideration.  For submission information see: http://www.prai.us

PRAI has a Youth Watch Division, chaired by Dominique Hurd, which enable youth to express themselves creatively.  Interested youth can contact Ms. Hurd at: d_uniquest@yahoo.com.

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