Film shows lives caught in cross-fire Movie: Baltimore resident George Millner's "Final Crossfire" is a fictional account of a Baltimore community's battle against drug lords.

June 01, 1996|By Miranda Barnes | Miranda Barnes,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

As Minga Lewis shouts, "Aren't you sick and tired of being sick and tired?" a group of people at St. Edward's Catholic Church in Northwest Baltimore begins to cheer.

But they are not responding to an inspirational sermon. For three hours, parishioners and residents of the Rosemont community have become actors, and St. Edward is a movie studio.

George Millner watches from the rear of the 116-year-old church as the screenplay he wrote nearly five years ago comes to life. It is a movie about how a Baltimore neighborhood fights to save itself.

Millner conceived the idea for the film after the 1991 shootings of 6-year-old Tiffany Renita Smith and 9-year-old Lakia Shanaye Bradford. Both girls were hit by bullets aimed at other people. Tiffany died. Lakia survived the bullet wound to her chest, and her story became fixed in Millner's mind.

"I had read that there had been 39 cross-fire shootings that year," says the 48-year-old filmmaker. "That number just stuck in mind."

"Final Crossfire" is the fictional account of young people who rally a community against drug lords. It's meant to be instructive, even inspirational.

"I wanted a movie about solutions," says Millner, a University of Baltimore graduate who also created "Illusions 1995," a short film featured at the Movie On A String Film Festival in Rochester, N.Y.

"When I was a kid, I never had to worry about being shot," says Millner, who was raised in Hartford, Conn., and now lives in East Baltimore. "Kids today are limited; they can't even go outside without facing violence."

Millner is producing "Final Crossfire" with John Gaither, 31, J. Hatim Hamer and a crew of volunteers. Love of children and anger about drugs and violence appear to motivate the crew, which includes students Millner met as a graduate student at Howard University's School of Communications, as well as veteran photographers and actors. Actor Ossie Davis is the only paid performer. He will be in Baltimore next month to play a minister who encourages his congregation to fight drug dealers.

Traci Nicole Thoms is a 20-year-old actress from Randallstown who has performed with Arena Players. She plays Minga Lewis, a young woman who, after the shooting death of her brother, dedicates herself to ridding her neighborhood of drugs.

Thoms says she is motivated by the film's "strong message. Minga is a very strong sister who doesn't take anything sitting down," she says.

"Anything anti-drug, I'm ready to support," says production manager Kinyette S. Newman, who helps to run a successful production company in Washington, D.C., and takes time on the weekends to be part of "Final Crossfire."

Millner's company, World Vizions Productions Inc., is working with Hamer Communications & Enterprises and A.E.L.O. Music Group to produce the movie. Though he says he wouldn't change partners for the world, he originally hoped to work with a major production company, too. But the companies he contacted told him they'd be interested in buying the rights to the movie, taking Millner and his partners out of script changes and production.

"We didn't want that," Millner says. "My major concern was they would take the movie and leave it open-ended. It's not just a film that talks about a problem in the community and doesn't solve it."

Hatim Hamer, 29, president of Hamer Communications in Baltimore and a former official of the National Association of Broadcasters, says "Final Crossfire" does not fall into the stereotype of movies set in dangerous urban communities.

"Filmmaking and Hollywood seem to go with trends; we don't want this to be thrown in the category of just another 'hood movie," he says.

In producing the movie themselves, Millner and his partners have relied on their own money and contributions to get the $150,000 needed for "Final Crossfire," scheduled to be completed in August.

Investors, ranging from lawyers to college students, have given time and money with hopes of seeing "Final Crossfire" on the big screen. With the three-hour shoot Sunday at St. Edward's costing $3,000 and producing about five minutes of what will be a movie about two hours long, it's a slow, not always steady process.

"I feel that I am helping to at least put out something positive," says Phyllis Chesley of Washington, who, with her sister, gave $1,000 to the production. "I feel like I am involved in a project that's going to be something positive."

This is the second movie in which Chesley has invested. As a mother of two, she sees "Final Crossfire" as an alternative view of an urban community. "I think that a lot of the more recent movies that have been out have a sort of pessimistic attitude," she says. "I think that is what's different about this movie."

A. D. Senaar of A.E.L.O. Music Group, who has raised money for the movie, says he looks for non-traditional movie investors. "We have gone to churches and civic organizations to get the feed money, folks that have some vested interest in fighting drugs," he says.

One of those people is the Rev. Maurice J. Blackwell, pastor of St. Edward's, who will appear as himself in the movie.

Millner's characters face the drug dealers and tell them they must get out of the community.

In one scene, residents destroy pounds of cocaine by stomping it into the dirt. "People can see this right now," Millner says. "More and more neighbors are banding together. People will realize that the only way to deal with the drugs and drug violence is to let them know that they won't take it anymore."

When people see "Final Crossfire," Millner says, "I want them to think there is something that can be done about the drugs and drug violence if they'll just unite and do it."

Pub Date: 6/01/96

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