Interview: Kenneth Nelson’s award-winning ‘Sincerely Brenda’ screens at the Lake Michigan Film Contest January 10

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Director Kenneth Nelson’s award-winning “Sincerely, Brenda” will screen as part of the Lake Michigan Film Contest for the East Lansing Film Festival, Friday, January 10th at 8PM at East Lansing Hannah Community Center, Theater B. “Sincerely, Brenda” has been nominated for 44 awards of which it has received 19.

“Sincerely, Brenda” was written and directed by MSU Communication Arts & Science Alumnus Kenneth Nelson, Jr., and draws upon the talents of Producer Briana Sparks ’18 and Assistant Director Paul Roh ’18, both alumni who majored in Media & Information at ComArtSci.

In May 2019, it won five prestigious awards at the inaugural Detroit Filmmakers Awards show.  This included Best Director–Ken Nelson, Best Editor–Ken Nelson, Best Supporting Actor– Sean Vaughn, Best Lighting – Alex Gasparetto and team, and  Best Cinematography- Alex Gasparetto.

After a sudden tragedy, a recovering alcoholic, attempts to reconcile with his two estranged sons over a weekend, but the encounter reveals skeletons from the family’s past that he must accept, or risk losing his sons forever.

“Sincerely, Brenda” has come full circle.  Circling the globe in its film festival run, it will return to the MSU campus, Lansing much to the delight of Kenneth Nelson.  

Nelson permitted Michigan Movie Weekender this interview in preparation for this screening. 

SincerelyBrendaKenneth Nelson

Okay, in this interview I’d like to talk about your award-winning film “Sincerely Brenda” which is going to screen this coming weekend in Lansing, is this correct? But before we do let’s lay a little groundwork and talk about how you prepared to become a filmmaker.

Thank you for the opportunity,  David! Yes, “Sincerely, Brenda” will be screening at the Lake Michigan Film Festival this weekend! It’s extra special because I’m an MSU graduate so it’s great to bring the film back to a place where I learned and grew so much! So my preparation as a filmmaker really started when I was young. I loved watching films. As a young kid, I would watch foreign films, indie films, horror, anime, etc. I would say I probably learned a ton about story structure, just by watching so many films. I was also a stage actor, so I would study the acting in the films as well. So once I began making films and formally learned about the process, some of it came really naturally to me, because of the 100s of films I’d consumed.

Had you created any films prior to “Sincerely Brenda”?

Yes, I made some short films that screened at festivals, two in particular, “Love Positive” and “The Patient” won awards. I did make an ambitious short film years ago that never saw the light of day. I recently uncovered a rough cut of it and maybe one day I’ll share it. Maybe not though.

Understood. But by the time you dug in and got started on “Sincerely Brenda” you had some experience. Did you ever anticipate the response that you got from this award-winning film of yours?

I seriously could have never anticipated the success of “Sincerely, Brenda.” Honestly, it’s wonderful and scary at the same time. It’s scary because there’s more work to be done and the thoughts of comparison come up often. Every project I create is different and the response will be different, so I can’t let this success get to my head.

For those who have not yet seen this movie, speak of its premise.  Where did you get the inspirations for “Sincerely Brenda”? Was this drawn from personal experience of one kind or another?

The film is about a father, who is a recovering addict, trying to reconcile with his two estranged sons after a sudden tragedy. I originally wanted to tell a story about a Black father/son dynamics. Growing up I didn’t see accurate representations in films of the black men I had in my life. My father and my uncles were emotionally complex, but Hollywood films didn’t depict black men with honesty. So I wanted to tell that story first then it just grew from there. I ran away from this story many times because I hadn’t experienced alcoholism and addiction directly, so I didn’t think I would do the story justice, but I was obedient to an idea that I know was given to me by God. The characters grew inside of me and would not leave me alone. So I finally gave in and was obedient and here I am.

Apparently, this is a story that has resonated deeply with audiences around the globe. To date, how many awards have you received for “Sincerely Brenda”?

Yes, the film has 44 nominations and 19 awards to date. The very first awards were won in Rome, Italy, one being Best Feature of the Year. It’s crazy! We won that award internationally competing against thousands of films. It was such a surreal moment. It just continues to be surreal and humbling.

Were you present to receive this award in Italy?

I wish!

Wishing to give everyone responsible for “Sincerely Brenda” their due, how did you assemble the cast and crew? You had a number of people from MSU assist you with this production, is this correct? Also a number of actors?

A few of the actors I’ve worked with before. Sean Vaughn my production partner and I have made multiple short films together. Rico Bruce Wade, who plays the father, he’d been in my short films and we also acted in stage plays together. I’ve also worked with Marcus Leslie, Teri Brown and Quentin Brown before. Tiffani Ferguson (Brenda), Teri Nelson, Leonydus Johnson, and Briana Marie were all the actors I’ve ever worked with. Everyone did such an amazing job with their characters. I’m always nervous about chemistry and they all just gelled so beautifully together. My crew was amazing! We had some tough shooting days and they were rock stars. I found my Director of Photography, Alex Gasparetto, through a referral from MPI (Motion Picture Institute) in Detroit. This was his first feature as a DP and he did amazing. He has won two awards for Best Cinematography and was nominated in Rome, Italy as well. I had two recent MSU graduates on set, Briana Sparks was my Producer, and she now works for a big network in New York and Paul Roh, my Assistant Director, who is now working on films in Atlanta. My sound mixer, Chris Caudle was amazing and I found him through Production Hub but realized we had a mutual filmmaker friend, and through him, Chris and I actually met years ago and didn’t realize it. I can go on about my cast and crew but it all seemed divine. We had a tough production schedule. We filmed, edited and premiered this film in the span of 4 months. I couldn’t have done this without my amazing team!

Again, “Sincerely Brenda” screens this weekend. Give us the particulars as to where and when it plays.

Yes, the film will screen at the Lake Michigan Film Festival, Friday, January 10th at 8PM at East Lansing Hannah Community Center, Theater B.


For more information on “Sincerely, Brenda”

IMDb page

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