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Pitt grad challenges Hollywood with indie ‘The Recall’

By Chris Estes / Staff Writer

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Ace Yilma wanted to make a movie that started a dialogue about abortion.

“There are a lot of stereotypes that males are pretty much OK with abortion, [but] sometimes they’re not,” Yilma, an Ethiopian native who graduated from Pitt in 2010, said. “Sometimes they want the kid.”

Yilma’s “The Recall” was one of nine films made in Pennsylvania that showcased at this year’s Pittsburgh Independent Film Festival on Saturday at the Father Ryan Arts Center in McKees Rocks. His film featured lead actor and CMU graduate Carter Redwood, who was recently on an episode of CBS’s “The Good Wife.” “The Recall” follows the plight of twenty-something urbanite Jamal (Redwood), who gives up a life of gambling and thievery to become a better man for his pregnant girlfriend, Tamika (Shahla Khanna). The catch? Tamika is adamant in wanting an abortion, and doesn’t want to include Jamal in her decision-making process. As far as amateur films go, “The Recall” managed to develop a strong character arc.

“I wanted people to have that conversation of ‘Yes, males do care,” Yilma said of the controversial subject matter featured in “The Recall.” “It’s [a film] about coming together. It’s OK to have a conversation about [abortion].”

At the festival, the “Made in Pennsylvania” film category began at 4:30 p.m. on Saturday, starting with the documentary feature “Finding Jenn’s Voice.” The hour-long film, directed by Tracy Schott of Reading, Pennsylvania, highlighted homicide as the leading cause of death during pregnancy. Other films included “Diamonds in the Rough,” about a Pittsburgh family in the jewelry business. An animated film called “Quiet Zone” featured a surprisingly violent twist ending. Finally, a comedic short, “White Fetish,” inverted the stigma of white men fetishizing Asian women.

“The Recall” showed close to 6:30 p.m. With Yilma’s vision in mind, it included many familiar Pittsburgh spots like Carnegie Mellon’s campus, Forbes Avenue and a shot of the Cathedral of Learning. Although it was an amateur production, the actors conveyed some genuinely tense moments — especially a confrontation between Jamal and Tamika’s father Warren, played by SAG award-winning actor Montae Russell.

Although he intended to study biology at Pitt, Yilma became a filmmaker after learning video techniques through UPTV and The Panther Sports Network. Later, he directed local music videos. Yilma said storytelling and American cinema played important roles in his life.

“I always had a love for films and always wanted to tell different stories,” he said. “When I watched movies, I always thought there were so many stories I could tell about fusing with the American way of life.”

According to the film’s 29-year-old screenwriter, D.J. Swank, writing about a pro-life male protagonist requires a certain level of tact.

“Ace wanted to tell this story about a rather controversial topic that most people won’t even discuss in the first place,” said Swank, who majored in English at Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania. “I wanted to write something that would be both entertaining and thought-provoking, but that wouldn’t be bogged down with politics or any other baggage.”

Despite the potent subject matter and the passion that making the film required, the Pittsburgh Independent Film Festival director, Ronald Quigley, had less than uplifting advice for aspiring filmmakers, including Yilma.

“Don’t do it. Don’t do any of this. It’s too hard,” Quigley said.

Quigley lived in Los Angeles for 15 years, acting in films and directing both comedies and dramas. As festival director, he views all submissions and decides which should be featured in the festival.  

Quigley, despite creating the “Made in Pennsylvania” category for the festival, was skeptical about the future of local filmmakers.

“Pittsburgh guy isn’t going to compete with L.A. guy,” he said.

Yilma, however, has plans to move to Los Angeles in August in an effort to network with industry professionals.

“A lot of films are coming to Pittsburgh,” said Yilma. “[But] as an independent filmmaker, you have to network in an area where there are a lot of filmmakers.”

With Quigley’s pessimistic views on becoming a successful filmmaker, he said “The Recall” is not likely to compete well nationally as an independent short film due to its amateur videography and acting. But, he recognized the dialogue the film inspired was worthy of being featured in his festival.

Although, according to Quigley, Yilma is starting from an impossible disadvantage, his passion for storytelling motivates him to continue directing movies.

Now that he’s finished “The Recall,” Yilma is beginning the process of starting another short film.

“I like to push the boundaries — do things we normally would not talk about,” Yilma said.

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Pitt grad challenges Hollywood with indie ‘The Recall’