Local filmmakers, screenwriters step into limelight

A short film director and two screenwriters, all from Northeast Philadelphia, have won awards and celebrated success in the past year for projects all inspired by the city they grew up in.

Left to right: Philip Malaczewski, Law Crimlis, Charles A. Christman III

Aside from the Rocky franchise or the occasional film directed by M. Night Shyamalan, Philadelphia tends to not be as heavily featured on the big screen as other metropolitan areas such as New York City or Los Angeles. But if you ask a trio of directors and screenwriters who grew up in Northeast Philadelphia what their most recent projects are based on, they’ll all say their hometowns served as inspiration for their art.

Charles A. Christman III, Philip Malaczewski and Law Crimlis, all Northeast Philadelphia natives, each saw success in the last year for film-related projects that took place in Philadelphia. Christman directed short film The Flower People, which has circulated through dozens of film festivals in the last year, and Malaczewski and Crimlis were both named winners in Greater Philadelphia Film Office 2020 Screenwriting Competition.

The through-line for the three projects: Write what you know. And in this case, it’s Philadelphia.

Growing up in Holmesburg, Christman balanced his love of creative writing with his career working at recreation centers across the city, including several years at the Torresdale Recreation Center and Jacobs Playground and Pool. The Flower People is his sophomore short film focusing on the relationship between a mother and son after the son becomes victim of a cult kidnapping. The project was filmed in spring 2019 in the Holmesburg and Tacony neighborhoods, including on location at Max Myers Playground and Gilbert Spruance Elementary School.

The film is shot in black and white, except for a few key elements that are in color such as flowers the mother buys the day before the kidnapping. It is inspired by horror films Christman loved growing up, 1934’s The Black Cat and films directed by Val Lewton.

“The scariest thing is what you don’t see – the mind creates the monster,” Christman said.

The project finished post-production and premiered in Manayunk a matter of days before COVID-19 shutdown began last year. Christman pivoted and submitted the project to film festivals, and it’s since circulated through 87 festivals, gathering an astounding 35 awards along the way.

“I’m so proud of my cast and crew for helping bring the vision for what I wrote down on paper to life,” he said.

The film isn’t available to watch online while it’s still being viewed in film festivals, but Christman is looking forward to putting it online or on a streaming service, likely in the fall. In the meantime, he’s looking forward to filming his next project.

As for the screenwriters, Wissinoming native Law Crimlis won the award’s grand prize for his screenplay Wish, based on the 1985 MOVE bombing incident that took place in the city. The script follows a white cop who must decide what to tell the jury about three corrupt cops accused of burning down 61 rowhomes and murdering six unarmed children. Depending on what he says, he risks both himself and his son being killed.

Crimlis is a founding member of the Actors’ Theater Company of Philadelphia, where his play “Get Crackin’ ” was performed. He’s written many screenplays for television and film, but this was his first entry into a screenwriting competition.

Malaczewski chose to base his television pilot script off of two things very present in his life – Philadelphia and COVID-19. His script, titled The Immune, took home the TV prime time award at this year’s screenwriting competition. In it, a second, more devastating pandemic ravages the world while it still recovers from COVID-19, but it spares many gay men and sex workers who are taking anti-HIV medication. Taking place in a ravaged Philadelphia, a group of survivors forms a commune in an abandoned mansion on the Main Line in order to survive.

Growing up in Lawndale, Malaczewski is a recent transplant to Los Angeles to pursue a career in film. But when he sat down to write the script, he knew he had to base it in Philadelphia.

“Write what you know,” he said. The settings and some of the characters are inspired by the types of people he grew up around.

In Los Angeles he freelances as a movie poster and DVD packaging designer and appears as a background actor in television shows while juggling writing multiple spec scripts at a time.

“It was a tough year for everyone and creatively it can feel difficult to find motivation when there’s so much wrong with the world, but winning this competition was such a bright spot,” he said. ••