A Road Trip, Cinematic Art, and Cultural Encounters
What began as a series of conversations in a tough Cincinnati neighborhood turned into a five year project that captures a compelling story on film. "The Last Shot” is a movie made by a group of street-wise young men that explores the dreams, dangers, hopes, and hard choices of the teenagers in their own home turf. It’s cinematic fiction with intense reality.
The historic Avalon Theater in Washington, DC was the setting for a special showing of the movie, followed by a discussion with the cast, the crew, and their mentors, March 25, as part of an event sponsored by Plexus Institute. The local audience for the screening included educators, members of the Plexus community and movie buffs who regularly visit the Avalon, a theater built in 1923 and restored as a nonprofit film center. A group of teenagers from a local Boys and Girls Club entered boisterously, but fell into hushed silence as the movie began. Despite inconsistent sound and some technical imperfections, you can’t watch this film without being drawn into the drama and feeling the fateful struggles of its young characters.
The story is about love, loyalty, friendship, violence and the unexpected way some decisions become irrevocable. Two high school basketball players fall in love with very different girls, and follow very different paths. The film’s title comes from basketball, bullets, and last chances in life. Joe Prather, now a 24-year-old college student studying business management, wrote the script when he was still in his teens. He sums up the message: "You never know when your last shot will be, so take advantage of the opportunities you have.” During the discussion after the screening, he explained, "You can make good choices, or you can make bad choices... You can also find positive influences, and find ways to do something positive and turn away from the negative.”
Joan and Michael Hoxsey are leaders of a community mentoring program in Cincinnati who got to know the young people years ago and encouraged them to pursue their desire to make a movie. That’s when they discovered Joe had written a really good script even before they knew him. Initially, they thought the movie would be a quick summer project. But that’s because none of them had ever made a movie. They began with no money, borrowed equipment, lots of determination and some formidable obstacles. They had to find actors, arrange for locations, get their peers to memorize lines and show up on schedule, and learn multiple new skills. Some scenes had to be done over and over. Families, friends and neighborhood residents joined the cast and crew. Joe’s uncle Bryon Prather helped with camera work. Joan and Michael Hoxsey and their daughter ands on-in-law, Geralyn and Tom Sparough, were their constant supporters and cheerleaders. Peter Block, the author and consultant based in Cincinnati, became the producer.
Last week the Hoxseys loaded a group of 14 young film-makers and supporters into two vans for a nine hour road trip to Washington, where Plexus President Lisa Kimball had arranged for seven families to host the visitors. In addition to the screening at the Avalon, the group visited the Newseum and grounds around the White House, and spent time with their host families.
Lewis Smith, who hosted Joe, his mother Terri Prather Kajake and Joe’s Aunt Kelly, found the movie grainy and rough, but very sincere. He was impressed by the cast and crew as they introduced themselves after the film, and enjoyed the longer discussions later with his guests. "They were the most gracious guests you can imagine,” he said. "We had some nice conversations. One was about Jehovah’s Witnesses, which they grew up with religiously, and the Quakers, of which I’m one, and the similarities between those groups. And they were incredibly generous—they brought enough flowers for two big vases, and a beautiful basket of fruit on their last day here.”
Another host, David Coleman, also commented on the generosity of his house guests, who presented him too with fruit and flowers. As a regular host of international guests in his home, Coleman says he is conscious of cultural divides and different worlds within our own country as well as across international boundaries. He volunteers with CityatPeaceDC, an organization that brings inner city and suburban youth together through the arts, and he says he’s like to see the DC group, who recently presented a musical, get together with Cincinnati group.
John Cooney, another host, was interested to hear his guests talk about how difficult it had been to make the film, and he was impressed with the way they stuck with it. "They kept reorganizing themselves to get it done because they had such a strong desire to show their story to the world,” he observed.
"It’s wonderful when you have a chance to engage in real conversation with people whose experience is so different from your own,” Lisa Kimball commented later. "I think both visitors and hosts expanded their world views in some surprising ways. Creating space for this kind of conversation is one of the things Plexus is all about.”
Several hosts and guests mentioned unexpected encounters with police. A group of several young men—all African Americans—reported being stopped on Connecticut Avenue not far from the theater one afternoon, asked for identification, and queried about why they were there. Police also stopped at homes of the host families at night, having heard reports that "black men were entering homes.” While the hosts were distressed, the guests reacted with philosophical tolerance.
"I’m kind of used to this,” said Joe Prather, who was stopped by police twice. "It happens all the time. It’s not like it doesn’t effect me, but I understand the situation. When I explained why we were here, the officer seemed shocked, and even like he was interested in the movie.” Joe says he likes to turn negatives into positives, and he’s even happier when he can let others know that everyone is not bad. Police appeared at night when Joe and several friends got out of a van in a residential neighborhood to return to their host families. "They probably thought we were thugs. Or coming to rob someone,” Joe said. But again, he said, understanding and politeness prevailed as information was conversationally exchanged.
Joan and Michael Hoxsey say their young friends have been through so much they are numb to episodes they themselves find outrageous. These young men have a tremendously hopeful mindset, both said, and they have learned how to stay away from being too angry about things. "It’s wonderful on one level, and very sad on another, but it’s part of their story,” observed John Hoxsey.
What was very interesting to the group, the Hoxsey said, was seeing demonstrators outside the White House. On Saturday, they said, there were people demonstrating for and against intervention in Libya, for Israeli interest, and against genetically modified food, among other things. "I didn’t understand all the issues,” Joe Prather said, "but I really liked the fact that people were out there fighting for what they believe in. That’s encouraging.”