Sundance Film Festival 2023. Short Talk with Rashad Frett

Rashad Frett is an award-winning Caribbean American Filmmaker based in NYC. He pursued the arts seriously after experiencing 9/11 as a Combat Medic in the U.S. Army. At that time, creating a positive social impact through the power of media became his passion. Frett is a recent MFA graduate of the Prestigious NYU Tisch Graduate Film Program. His dedication to the craft has earned him many awards including a BAFTA – HBO scholarship, a Martin Scorsese Young Filmmakers scholarship, a DGA Student Film Award Winner, a BET Blackhouse Foundation Fellow at Sundance, a Prestigious King Wasserman Award Winner at NYU’s First Run film festival, a National Grand Prize Winner of Gentleman Jack’s Real to Reel Film Competition with Omari Hardwick, a Spike Lee Production Fellowship, the first Cary Fukunaga Production Fund Recipient, as well as being selected for the Ryan Murphy’s HALF Initiative Director Shadowing program. His recent film “Ricky” had its world premiere at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival and he is a 2023 Sundance Screenwriters Lab Fellow. Additionally, his work has screened at film festivals including SXSW, Berlinale, and American Black Film Festival. His work has also aired on Showtime, The Stephen Colbert Show, NPR Tiny Desk, Tidal, and his team was featured in “Rolling Stone” magazine. Frett is currently in development of his first feature film, “Ricky.”

At this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Tara Karajica talks to Rashad Frett about the aforementioned short film “Ricky,” the story of an ex-offender struggling with new freedom and pursuing redemption at all costs when given a job from his neighbor; the short form and what he is up to next.

What made you want to become a filmmaker?

Rashad Frett: I always wanted to express myself in some sort of art form, but I got more perspective onwanting to pursue the arts specifically in filmmaking when my army unit was activated for9/11. That day ignited a need for me to speak on social topics that I’ve experiencedfirst-hand and since I didn’t want to go the political route, filmmaking seemed the rightpath for me to voice issues in our society in hopes of making change for the better.

How did Ricky come about?

R.F.: For my thesis project at NYU Tisch Grad Film, we had the option of making a short film in order to earn our MFA. I used this opportunity to write a film touching on recidivism in communities of color that I witnessed first-hand amongst my peers in my hometown.

In the film, you explore and denounce America’s prison system that impacts the lives of the ex-convicts who are readjusting to society as it creates a vicious and deadly cycle of recidivism and the discriminatory outcome of the U.S. judicial system in communities of color. Can you elaborate on that?

R.F.: Seeing a lot of my peers go through the criminal justice system and how it affected them inspired me to create the protagonist’s story. With a looming record over his head, a close friend of mine struggled to find work which resulted in him repeating the cycle that landed him in prison in the first place and eventually falling victim to the streets. My film’s purpose is to give a visceral example for the audience to experience through the perspective of an ex-offender.

You also honor the lives of the families impacted by the lack of resources for the successful transition of people with felonies and the daily battles they face to reintegrate back into society. Can you comment on that?

R.F.: When someone is incarcerated, they aren’t the only ones affected from being imprisoned. Friends, family members, and loved ones also experience the effects of incarceration and I shed light on this by portraying Ricky’s awkward interaction with his loved ones. A specific line that Ricky’s neighbor tells him: “All those years you did, you didn’t do them alone” suggests that his absence affected all of them, not just Ricky. A good friend of mine that runs a re-entry program to help ex-offenders reintegrate back into society gave insight on how needed these programs are and furthermore the need for programs right before ex-offenders are released from prison to give them a head start on reacclimating back into society.

Ricky fears going back to prison and you construct your film around that. Can you delve deeper into that and into the character of Ricky?

R.F.: Ricky’s experiences in prison from being incarcerated as a teenager in an adult prison and spending the majority of his time in isolation not only made him institutionalized, but also stunted his mental growth. Finally, being free after serving 15 years and knowing any mess up could violate his parole, instilled fear into Ricky from the first frame of the film. Walking on a tightrope of freedom while struggling to adjust to a freer environment is what Ricky’s character deals with in the story.

Can you talk about the shooting process and working with Cary Fukunaga?

R.F.: Initially, we were supposed to shoot in early 2020, but the pandemic put a halt on production. While going through the pandemic, I continued to tweak the script and then Cary Fukunaga came on board after I won his production grant in mid 2021. Cary was and still is a phenomenal mentor, taking the time out of his hectic schedule to call and discuss the script in depth and giving amazing notes on each draft. We finally were cleared by NYU to shoot the film a year and a half later, and we shot over five days in the Hartford, Connecticut area. In post-production, Cary gave notes on each cut and we worked together on it until it was ready to go. It was a truly remarkable experience working with Cary on my thesis film.

What do you think of the short form today? How is it in the U.S.?

R.F.: I always loved short forms and many of them that I’ve seen nowadays are getting better and better. I tell my college students that making shorts is your calling card to the industry and also a great way to build an audience. In the U.S. from what I’ve seen, the short form is still an important way to touch on many subject matters and also with the continued advancement of social media, short forms are as necessary as ever.

What are your next projects?

R.F.: My next project is expanding Ricky into a feature film and developing other feature film and TV show concepts with my collaborators.

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