A new New Haven-based film, I Am Shakespeare (The Henry Green Story), not yet in its premiere phase, is slated to be screened at a Nov. 19 fundraiser.
The audience will not only get to see the film and participate in a talk-back with the film’s subject, Henry Green, and director, Stephen Dest; it will also be contributing to an exciting light installation project in New Haven by world-renowned artist Sheila Levrant de Bretteville.
The installation has been commissioned by Site Projects, the public arts nonprofit organization that has been creating meaningful public art throughout New Haven for the past 13 years. The project, entitled Way to Go, will illuminate part of the Route 34 underpass near Union Station. The installation is designed to remake a deteriorated urban space at one of New Haven’s busiest gateways, while helping to build on New Haven’s profile as a city that cares about art.
For Dest, the decision to collaborate with Site Projects to help raise funds was not difficult.
“Collaboration is so vital in the arts community, so working with Site Projects was an easy decision to make,” he said. “Filmmakers are so often left to their own devices (for better or worse), so when an opportunity to work with an organization like Site Projects comes along, it’s too good, and too important to pass up.” The film’s investors include the Pincus Family Foundation and private donors from the New Haven community. Neighborhood Music School served as the film’s fiscal sponsor.
Filming began on I Am Shakespeare a little less than a year ago. Dest, the film’s award-winning director, was initially hoping to re-create the true New Haven story as a full-length feature drama, following the success three years ago of his psychological thriller My Brother Jack, a film he wrote and directed.
I Am Shakespeare tells the story of gifted thespian Henry Green of Newhallville, whose remarkable talents made him a standout in the Cooperative Arts and Humanities High School theater program. He skillfully portrayed the role of Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet for a Shakespeare in the Park production.
The film tells Green’s coming-of-age story as he channeled several identities and coped with the challenges of straddling two worlds: one that recognized his special talents on stage, the other a rough-and-tumble existence that played out on some of New Haven’s toughest streets. Green has admitted that he “was no angel.” His charisma and acting skills enabled a leadership position in his own gang.
Green’s challenging socioeconomic circumstances were always waiting for him after the accolades of every stage performance. Under gang turf rules, getting off at the wrong bus stop in his own neighborhood could prove costly. His specially honed survival skills proved insufficient one fateful evening as he and his posse were confronted by hooded gang members wearing ski masks. Flight was not an option for Green as he stared into an assailant’s eyes.
“The eyes of a lost child, confused hurt and angry… I saw a mirror in his eyes,” Green said. Seconds later, he was shot point-blank.
After much consideration by Dest and Green, it was decided that a documentary, told in Green’s own words, would be “far more honest and cinematic than what could’ve been recreated in a drama,” Dest said. Using Green’s insights into his own world, viewers could trace the story of his gritty journey from death’s door to a miraculous but protracted recovery, thanks to a rare small intestinal organ transplant, a strong support system, and Green’s own tenacious will.
“Although it’s a documentary, there’s a real arc of a performance in the film,” Dest said.
I Am Shakespeare represents the second in a trilogy of New Haven-based films for Dest. His third film, titled Grace, will look at the city’s architecture and city landscape as told through the fictional characters of architect Henry Cooper and his daughter Grace.
“It’s a story of one man’s obsession with design and legacy, but also the alienation of his own family,” Dest said. “My Brother Jack looked at the amazing and gifted arts community (with a psychological murder twist) and I Am Shakespeare looks at the inner-city community and its struggle with identity and salvation. Grace will look at the third piece of our unique city: the university and its historical significance to the world beyond the ivory towers.”
I am Shakespeare will be screened at Common Ground Springside Center, an award-winning building located at 385 Springside Ave. in New Haven, on Nov. 19 at 5:30 p.m. A dinner and cocktail hour for VIP and prime ticket fundraising tiers will precede the 81 minute screening, which will be followed by a moderated panel discussion with Dest and Green. Other activities include a fine art silent auction to benefit the Site Projects fund.