SHORT FILM REVIEW: A Sisterhood of Signatures
A SISTERHOOD OF SIGNATURES— 3 STARS
One does not need millions of dollars to create an expression of personal passion. They need patience to see their vision through, a dedication to the project shared all involved, and the courage to put their work and themselves out there. Filmmaker Okema “Seven” Gunn harnessed all three of those values to make her short film A Sisterhood of Signatures and put them right back into the finished piece. She will proudly display her effort alongside the works of her inspirations and contemporaries as part of Chicago’s 25th Black Harvest Film Festival hosted by the Gene Siskel Film Center.
Young teenager Tiyah Owens, played with a quiet confidence by Maya Hooks, is learning little bits of the stresses of adulthood from observing her parents (Cynda Williams and Christopher A. Greer). Seeing and hearing them argue and debate over finances brings forth questions in Tiyah. With grace and compassion, each parent happily obliges to help her understand those rigors. The girl also gravitates to a trio of good friends. Jazmine (Jada Hamilton), Lupe (Hayley C. Alexander), and Sophie (Nicole Nedyalkova, a chatty scene-stealer) are fellow tweens who are quick to offer Tiyah social connection and support.
When Tiyah discovers a handwritten letter from her great-grandmother dating back to World War II in a family scrapbook, she becomes fascinated with its dramatic content and the origins of how it was made. Through her mother’s guidance, this leads Tiyah to discovering the power of cursive and its art of emotional expression. Tiyah begins to challenge her girlfriends to write pen-and-paper letters instead of texts and emails.
LESSON #1: THE SKILL OF CURSIVE HANDWRITING — Beginning with the overlay of calligraphy over the moving images on screen to open A Sisterhood of Signatures, we are reminded of the skill and beauty of written communication that came before keyboards and thumbed predictive text. The unique coordination and mechanics of penmanship are becoming fading skill and a lost art. Each cursive letter is a purposeful movement that takes time to perfect.
LESSON #2: THE INTIMACY OF A PERSONALIZED COMMUNICATION — Through seasonal chapters of this short film, we see the impact of Tiyah’s call for creativity and the rules these girls establish. Each experience improved connection with their casual and familial relationships. The find a different level of passion in their words and the bonds between the writers and recipients of their letters really open their lives. With patient camera work by director of photography Emmanuel Stewart that observes and absorbs the child actors conversing naturally and making stirring statements, we see the differences of the results that came from new effort.
LESSON #3: THE IDENTITY AND INTENT OF A SIGNATURE — In several narrated cutaways voiced by Maya Hooks and backed by music composed by Rob “Diggy” Morrison, A Sisterhood of Signatures goes one more lesson further with the enriching discoveries found by these impressionable teens. Harking back all the way to the era of slavery and the oppression of many who remain nameless, the girls learn both the ownership and responsibility of a simple signature. The meaningful power of one putting their name on something cemented intent and, most importantly, identity. This is an outstanding takeaway from Okema Gunn’s short film.
In seventeen simple and soulful minutes, Gunn’s female-centered story cuts to the core with calmness and intrinsic merit. To chronicle and distill a year’s worth of personal growth within this group of girls in this tidy amount of time is an extraordinary accomplishment for the writer and filmmaker. This short film models the kind of discussion starters our shared family times and friend spaces could use in this modern era of device dependency that touts connectivity with less actual relationship building. A Sisterhood of Signatures is a touching presence of solidarity and an admirable educational remembrance to have and share with others. Once again, all of this comes from patience, dedication, and courage to present a personal passion. Bravo, Miss Gunn.