Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Takoma Park featured in former resident’s movie at Tribeca

Short film was screened at New York film festival

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Photo courtesy of the Tribeca Film Festival
In a scene from the short film ‘‘Takoma Park,” Joel ‘‘Jolie” Jolson, played by Brandon Thane Wilson (left), and Haroon, played by Vikrum Mather, asked to be excused from class to attend the Million Man March.
Many past and present Takoma Park residents talk about their passion for the city, but filmmaker David Andalman took his one step further last year when he wrote and directed ‘‘Takoma Park,” a short film that debuted in April at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City.

Shot largely on location locally using several area actors and Andalman’s friends and family as extras, the 10-minute ‘‘Takoma Park” was among the 79 short films selected to be screened at this year’s festival out of more than 2,500 submitted.

Andalman, 28, who moved to Takoma Park with his parents from Mississippi when he was 9 years old and now lives in New York City, originally wrote the film as a feature-length movie, but decided to make a shorter version first in order to reduce costs.

Set in Takoma Park during the 1990s, the film follows Joel ‘‘Jolie” Jolson, a white student at the old Montgomery Blair High School and the great-great grandson of famed entertainer Al Jolson. Jolie desperately wants to be accepted by minorities and make the Blair basketball team.

Though full of references to old hippies, D.C. commuters, and big houses in Potomac, Andalman says the script is not meant to be representative of his time in Takoma Park.

‘‘I wouldn’t say it represents the city at all,” he said. ‘‘I wouldn’t say it represents my life, either.”

But some of the themes were motivated by his experiences, he added.

‘‘I had all these great friends in elementary school, and then in high school when you discover your race and class, there becomes this great rift and then you have to deal with that,” Andalman said.

Though Andalman said the film lost some of its subplots and nuances after being shortened to 10 minutes, it still manages to touch on major topics like race, adoption and teen pregnancy, as well as mid-’90s references like the O.J. Simpson trial, Sega Genesis and the Million Man March.

Several of the scenes were filmed along Maple Avenue and inside Andalman’s parents’ house on Montgomery Avenue.

‘‘We got really lucky to be that close to a project that he was working on and had great fun with it,” said Andalman’s mother, Martha Bergmark, who housed several of the film’s actors and plays the main character’s mother in a scene. ‘‘It was just really interesting to see the process unfold.”

Among the local extras Andalman cast was his former basketball coach, Jerold Hall, who appears as a coach in the film. The two hadn’t seen each other in about a decade, they said.

‘‘I wouldn’t pass up a chance to help somebody I knew,” said Hall, who still coaches in a local summer league. ‘‘I was flattered that he thought of me.”

Brandon Thane Wilson, 19, landed his first leading role ever in a film when Andalman cast him as the wannabe NBA star Jolson.

‘‘He’s this kid just desperately trying to fit in and just thinks he does but really doesn’t at all,” Wilson said. ‘‘Your gut wrenches for this character.”

A native of Warrenton, Va., and a vegetarian, Wilson said he knew he was going to enjoy filming in Takoma Park the moment he stepped off of the Metro and saw a free newspaper for vegetarian cooking.

‘‘It has such a small-town feel,” he said. ‘‘I remember we were walking from one of the sets to the other and it was all right in the neighborhood. Everyone was waving and saying hi, and it felt like home.”

Andalman, whose 2005 film, ‘‘The Braggart,” was an official selection at several national film festivals, said he still wants to make a feature-length version of ‘‘Takoma Park” so more people become aware of the city.

‘‘We’ve got to put Takoma Park on the map,” he said.