Young Mfume brings his first film to the screen

'THE WEEKEND IT LIVES'

January 29, 1992|By Mary Corey

If Michael Mfume ever makes a movie about life as a first-time filmmaker, he could title it: "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly."

First we'd see him schmoozing with celebrity-director Spike Lee.

Then we'd watch him plunge into debt to the tune of $250,000.

As the final credits rolled, he'd drown in a sea of bright red monster blood.

Is this the way Orson Welles started out?

Probably not, but Mr. Mfume gets his reward tonight when his horror-comedy "The Weekend It Lives" premieres at Security Square Cinema.

"This whole experience has shown me, as always, I'm a fighter. I can stand up under any kind of weather," says the 22-year-old son of Rep. Kweisi Mfume, D-7th.

With no experience, no contacts and no money, the writer/director/producer/star indeed faced a battle. The film was shot in 15 days over a four-month period -- mostly around Morgan State University, Ashburton, Walbrook Junction and Druid Hill Park. He recruited amateur actors, mostly friends from Morgan State, to play college students whose weekend of fun turns into terror, thanks to a monster named "It."

He explains all this during lunch (an ice cream sandwich and kiwi-flavored mineral water eaten at 2:30 p.m.) as if to say: Don't expect the next "Citizen Kane."

"I hope people will go, not with a critical eye, but with an eye to where something is starting from," says Mr. Mfume, who lives in West Baltimore.

But moments later surfaces the boastful filmmaker, who chatted with Spike Lee at the recent premiere of "Juice": "When you think of horror films in the '90s, you going to think of Michael Mfume."

The fact that he was able to make the movie at all impresses some.

"This kind of effort is extraordinary," says Jay Schlossberg-Cohen, director of the Maryland Film Commission. "Here's a young man who . . . took his dream, finished it and released it. To me, that's the measure of success."

It wasn't easy.

Mr. Mfume's love affair with movies began at age 10 when his mother bought the family a VCR. While other youngsters were playing outside, Michael was content to sit inside his West Baltimore home with the remote control. He knew he was hooked when he watched "Superman" six times in one night.

In 1989, the same year that "Do The Right Thing" made a star out of Spike Lee, Michael Mfume decided to enter the business. He met with Mr. Cohen, went home and wrote a script in 13 days.

But raising money proved his greatest difficulty.

"I'm not going to lie. Being named 'Mfume' opened doors. It got me into the offices of the big CEOs. But once you're inside, it's all about what you can do."

And not everyone was convinced that a Morgan State student who had taken a few film and theater classes had the experience to make a profitable movie.

"For months I would just go back and forth to people and have them say, 'No, no, no.' "

Eventually he found a group of investors, who put up nearly $400,000. His family pitched in, too -- his mother feeding the cast during long shoots, his grandmother paying his phone bills and his father donating to the cause.

Watching Mr. Mfume devote two years of his life to the project taught Representative Mfume something about his son:

"I learned he's a lot like me, probably more like me than I thought. When he makes up his mind to do something, he puts every ounce of his energy into it."

Mr. Mfume's career was helped considerably when he met filmmaker John Singleton, who was in Baltimore last summer. The director of "Boyz N the Hood" helped him set up interviews and screenings with major Hollywood studios, including Disney, Columbia and Warner Brothers.

Nothing panned out, but he returned to Baltimore determined to get the film into movie theaters. He went into $250,000 debt to set up 2 Smooth Film Production company and Nubian Prince Pictures.

On Friday the movie opens at three theaters -- Westview, Harborpark and Reisterstown Plaza Five Star. Theaters in Washington, New York and Philadelphia are also being lined up, he says.

As for his future, he's written four other scripts and hopes to begin shooting his next film, "The Awakening," in Maryland next month.

"All I can do is look forward," he says. "The pressure is going to come when the movie opens on Friday. My whole thing is, I get what I get. I'm praying they like it, but I have to dance with what comes."

Does that frighten Michael Mfume? "No," he replies with a grin. "I'm an excellent dancer."

The premiere of "The Weekend It Lives" takes place tonight at 7:30 at Security Square Cinema. V103 Radio is sponsoring the event. A reception at the Palladium follows. Tickets to the party are $10. For more information call (410) 528-8833 or (410) 481-8103.

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