As a way to process his mother’s cancer diagnosis, a Cleveland Heights filmmaker began writing a new script. With health in mind, Myron Davis crafted a story focusing on a father struggling with his daughter’s illness and how to pay for mounting medical bills. The result became his first full-length film, “One Last Prayer,” which will premiere during Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival’s closing film and awards ceremony Sept. 29.
“She was the backstory on how I wrote about the doctor’s visits and the feeling of helplessness watching a loved one go through this,” he says of his mother, Ceceil Davis, who died in 2014.
After two years writing the script, Davis didn’t know how he was going to use it. But after thinking about what to do with his mother’s home and inheritance, he decided to take this idea from a short production to a two-hour movie. “She went without our whole lives so we could have something, and even in her death, she left us more,” says Davis. His mother’s Cleveland Heights home became a main setting for “One Last Prayer.”
Growing up, the filmmaker’s mother took him to music and theater performances and also helped him pursue his own artistic talents. At the church where his father Aaron Davis was a pastor, the filmmaker and his whole family sang in the choir. This musical upbringing led Davis to a career as a recording artist, which included writing songs for the rhythm and blues group Dru Hill and other influential musicians. He currently is the director of programming and worship arts at New Community Bible Fellowship in Cleveland Heights, carrying on his strong background in gospel music.
Around 2010, when user-friendly DSLR cameras were leading to a surge in independent filmmaking, Davis decided he also could learn this art form. His first short film, “Crystal Teardrops,” premiered at the inaugural Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival in 2012. The film focuses on a mother’s struggling relationships with her son and husband.
“One Last Prayer” will premiere during this year’s festival at 7 p.m. Sept. 29 at the Mandel Theatre in Highland Hills, followed by a Q&A panel discussion with Davis and some of the movie’s actors. Since the production had a small budget, Davis focused on making the story compelling rather than adding bells and whistles. “There are twists and turns and heart-gripping moments,” he says.
Coming from a background in the Christian faith, the filmmaker says this influences his work, but he doesn’t label “One Last Prayer” as a Christian film.
“I tried to intentionally stay away from a genre and just write as an extension of who I am,” he says. “I do feel certain ways about social constructs and the political arena, and while I don’t necessarily stand on a soap box, every writer is responsible for the influences from whatever they believe.”
Following the theme of the Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival, Davis created characters that don’t place minorities in stereotypical roles. “I didn’t want to show a black man that is the stereotypical dead beat,” he says. “I think all cultures have them [stereotypes], but we are overrepresented in that area.” Instead, the film’s lead role, played by the filmmaker’s brother, Niles Rivers, is portrayed as a good man and father who has struggles but ultimately is trying to do the right thing.
While the movie deals with a difficult subject matter, “the core theme is don’t give up hope,” says Davis.
The film festival begins Thursday and continues through Sept. 29. These nine days showcase minority films and filmmakers to “reinforce positive images and dispel negative stereotypes,” according to the festival’s website.
“Our [African American] representation is typically about killings, shootings and drugs,” says Donna Dabbs, the festival’s co-founder and executive director. “We don’t see enough movies where we’re in comedies and love stories, and that show the same joys and struggles everyone has in life.”
Local, national and international films, as well as panel discussions and film industry workshops, are included in the schedule. Along with paid shows, several free community screenings, including the documentary “Black Women in Medicine,” are part of the festival. Most events are at Shaker Square Cinemas, but some, like the awards ceremony and “One Last Prayer” premiere, are at alternative locations.
Initially using script writing and filmmaking as a catharsis from life’s hardships, Davis never thought he’d have his work shown prominently in public. But by participating in this film festival, he says he’s been “exposed to a lot of filmmakers and actors in Cleveland who are like me – looking for outlets for our art.”
Images from "One Last Prayer" courtesy of Mfinity Media