With the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo just under a year away, and immigration a hot topic in the headlines, “Sprinter,” executive produced by Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, will be a particularly timely feature at the upcoming Blackstar Film Festival.
“Sprinter,” written and directed by Storm Saulter, will play at 5:30 p.m., Friday, Aug. 2 at the Lightbox Film Center (International House), 3701 Chestnut St.
A joyful and inspiring coming-of-age film with a definite dark undertone, “Sprinter,” filmed in part at the University of Pennsylvania, is the engaging and provocative story of the Sharp family.
The family is comprised of Garfield Sharp (Dennis Titus), his wife Donna (Lorraine Toussaint), their son Germaine (Kadeem Wilson) and his younger brother Akeem (Dale Elliott). One day, while walking on the beach on their beautiful island of Jamaica, Donna tells her baby boy, about 5 years old at the time, that she must go to America for two years to “help their family.” A short time later, she says a tearful goodbye to Garfield and boards her flight.
Ten years later, we see Akeem, now a strapping teenager, jogging down a dirt road, and his mother still has not returned. He has grown into a talented athlete who idolizes the great Olympic sprinter Usain Bolt, and even has a poster of the legendary gold medalist taped to the inside of his locker. Akeem also looks up to his big brother, Germaine, who was once a rising star in the 400 meter race before his life went awry. He is now a constant source of bad advice for Akeem, and is frequently at odds with their father.
The one positive influence in Akeem’s life is his coach (David Alan Grier), who sees great potential in the boy, both as an athlete and as a human being, and always gives him advice that is on point. He tells Akeem, who has been unsuccessful at the 400 meters, but has been competing in it because it was Germaine’s event, to switch to the 200 meters. He resists at first, but when a teammate goes down with an injury he is forced to enter and blows the field away. Before long, Akeem is a rising star in his own right, charming the girls at school and making TV appearances. Dale Elliott is engaging and extremely likeable as the innocent and trusting Akeem.
While things are now great on the track, life at home is deteriorating. It appears that Akeem’s mother may never return home, his father has started drinking, and Germaine, now involved in criminal activity, is headed toward destruction. On top of everything else, they are all keeping a devastating secret from him. What will become of the Sharp family? Usain Bolt, an eight-time Olympic champion, appears in the film, as does Bryshere Y. Gray of “Empire” fame.
“I started writing ‘Sprinter’ during the years of Jamaican sprinting dominance, lead by Usain Bolt and Shelly Anne Frasier Pryce. I knew the world was paying attention, and I wanted to use track and field as a vehicle to tell the story of a modern Caribbean family in all of its complexity and nuance,” Storm Saulter said exclusively to The Philadelphia Tribune. “A family dealing with issues of immigration and separation. Rob Maylor and NBA vet Richard Jefferson of Mental Telepathy Pictures eventually joined the project. They got the script to Will and Jada Pinkett Smith, who loved it immediately. Their team at Overbrook Entertainment jumped in and we hit the ground running.
“’Sprinter’ signals an important moment in the growth of Caribbean cinema and it’s potential to reach global audiences. It is at the crest of an emergent wave of visual storytelling from across the region,” he said.
“’Sprinter’ showcases the unbreakable bond between parents and their children, and Will and I are beyond excited to share the film with families everywhere,” said executive producer Jada Pinkett Smith. “’Sprinter’ is a testament to the powerful, personal, and universal stories that can be told when underrepresented voices are given access, inclusion, and opportunity. We are so proud of this film!”