Kyle Jordan believes in the power of relationships. He’s staked his career on them: The relationships he’s built as a science teacher at Mastery Charter. The relationships he established while working for a Parks & Rec after-school program at the MLK Center at 21st and Cecil B. Moore. The relationships rooted in his childhood neighborhood, which he describes as “a really rough part of West Philadelphia.”
Relationships are at the heart of the books Jordan has written for the kids around him, Chaining: A Novel , and Why the Neighbors of Apple Tree Street Hate Red Sweaters. He also relied on relationships with film industry creatives, including fellow Temple grads across the country to create his short film, The Tunnel, a suspenseful short that explores the haunting, obstructing effects of Black trauma.
Writers, lighting techs, the DP, sound pros, camerapeople, actors all came together, mostly without pay, to help Jordan make the film. They pulled all-nighters to ideate on the script. They shot on 95-degree July days in a cramped rowhouse. They added in big and small ways to the vision of the film. Relationships, says Jordan, are “the reason The Tunnel happened.” They are also the inspiration.
In less than 25 minutes, The Tunnel employs close-up camerawork and tense bursts of memory to revisit seminal moments in the life of its protagonist, an aspiring film writer, played by Jordan. One moment, he’s sitting in his rowhouse apartment. The next, he’s in a confrontation on a basketball court; suffering through a family dinner; on the sidewalk, being shouted at by a posse of friends.
It becomes clear that the effects of trauma, the sort uniquely experienced by young Black people in America, are virtually inescapable. But are they overcome-able?
“Every time he gets closer to his dreams, something from his past comes up,” says Jordan. “As a Black man, as I was growing up, there were barriers I had to jump over. But, as you get older, as you do new things, you can forget about the things that are holding you back. Trauma never ends: One day, I’m feeling good; one day I’m dealing with the past.”
But then, there’s a twist that leaves the audience wondering: Are these moments happening now, or then? Is there a difference, really? Will the main character be rescued from his own head?
The filmmaker won’t reveal the ending — and leaves it to the audience to divine past from present — but he will say, “it’s definitely a turn on the dark side. You spend 20 minutes with this guy. He’s going through all this. You wonder: Is he making it, or is he not?”
He’ll also share the message he wants his audience to leave with. “I want to make people look around and appreciate who they have around them. If you have nothing — if you lose your job, if you don’t get the girl you like — if you have nothing, you have the people around you.”
In other words, value relationships.
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Ironically, Jordan, 27, knows relationships are also exactly what have held back filmmakers like him from success in the industry. “As a Black male, it’s really hard to get into this business,” he says. “There’s a lot of nepotism.”
Should The Tunnel — or another of the handful of films Jordan has in the works — make it big at one of the festivals he’s entering, or onto Hollywood’s radar, he knows what he will do. He will officially employ his team.
“I really want to be able to do this on my own. I have the cameramen, the sound people, the light people,” he says, “These are people with vision, and I really want to be able to pay them. I want them to know I appreciate them.”
The Tunnel, he adds, is dedicated to his longtime friend, Quenzell “Q” Bradley Brown, another recently accidental casualty of Philadelphia’s gun violence epidemic, shot while bringing groceries home to his wife and kids in Overbrook.
Proceeds from the premiere will go toward a cash reward, a scholarship for a Philadelphia high school student interested in writing screenplays.
“Everything I do, I do for the people who look like me,” he says.
The Tunnel premieres on Saturday, October 29 at 6pm at the Asian Arts Initiative, 1219 Vine Street. The event is semi-formal, with drinks, dinner and a DJ. A few $20 tickets remain. Scoop yours up here.
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