Independent filmmaker Andrew Gajadhar is ebullient when talking about his directorial debut, particularly when it comes to the opportunity to showcase it on the silver screen.
“I actually want to rebuild the theatergoing experience,” he says.
A lofty goal, perhaps, but the Columbia resident will get his first shot at theatrical exhibition this week. On Saturday, March 24, What Matters, a drama written and directed by Gajadhar, will have its premiere at the Spotlight Cinemas on St. Andrews Road. The event starts at 8:30 p.m., with the film screening at 9.
Gajadhar has been involved with independent films for several years, and has previously served as a producer on a pair of indies. Gajadhar has a background in self-defense training, and told Free Times recently that he initially got the filmmaking bug while working as a producer and fight coordinator on the 2014 film Prelude to Infusco.
But directing and writing his own feature (he also has a supporting acting role) represents a big step for the Columbia filmmaker. With What Matters, the director is tackling a number of headline-grabbing topics in a story that follows a young man who is coming to grips with the social and racial injustice, and violence, he sees in the world around him.
Gajadhar says it was important to him to create a film that gives people pause, and makes them consider multiple sides of some of the hottest issues of the day.
“So, I wanted to do a film that addressed a lot of different social issues, and not necessarily tell people what to think or tell them what to think about,” he says. “So, basically, it shows both sides of the fence of the Black Lives Matter movement, the Blue Lives Matter movement, [issues faced] by women in the workforce in corporate America, harassment in the workplace, bullying in schools, and the use of language in the home and how it trickles down to the next generation.
“The whole purpose of this film is to show these issues so that people can actually see what matters — what truly matters — for us to grow together as a nation family in a positive direction.”
The cast of What Matters features a number of actors — including Tracey de Leon and Tim Olcott — whose resumes feature various small roles in TV shows and independent films. But perhaps the most eye-catching name on the film’s roster is Deon Richmond, the 39-year-old actor who was on The Cosby Show as a child and later appeared in a host of well-known studio movies and TV shows, including Scream 3, Not Another Teen Movie and Van Wilder, among others.
Gajadhar says he was able to meet with Richmond — one of his cousins is friends with the actor — and pitch him on the idea of the movie and show him the script. Richmond agreed to help out.
“I asked him to do a cameo, and he said, ‘Sure,’” Gajadhar says. “He plays a very pivotal role in the film. He’s not in the film that long, but the role he plays is very pivotal.”
What Matters was filmed in and around Columbia and, according to the Internet Movie Database, carries a budget of just more than $200,000. Such a budget would be infinitesimally small in the world of big studio pictures, but for an indie production the sum is fairly significant. Gajadhar says he and a producing partner pledged funds for the film, there was an Internet crowdfunding campaign, and they had two private investors who kicked in significantly.
It’s also notable that What Matters is screening at the recently remodeled Spotlight Cinemas on St. Andrews. The theater’s primary function is as a discount movie house, showcasing studio films that have recently left first-run cinemas. But the theater also is emerging as a go-to landing spot for Columbia independent filmmakers looking to showcase their work. In November 2017, Columbia director Chris Bickel and writer David Axe debuted their exploitation horror film The Theta Girl at the St. Andrews Road facility.
What Matters features a culturally diverse cast, which Gajadhar says was intentional. It also arrives at a moment when, at the studio level, African-American filmmakers are finding critical and commercial success. Director Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther, for instance, has been a runaway smash at the box office, and Jordan Peele took home an Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay for his incendiary, wildly entertaining Get Out.
Gajadhar, who is African-American, says black filmmakers have essential stories to tell, at the studio and independent level.
“I think that African-American filmmakers are trying to be heard and seen as a value to the industry,” he says. “That is what I believe is happening right now. I believe people are starting to see the value we possess.”
What: Premiere of What Matters
Where: Spotlight Cinemas; 527 St. Andrews Road
When: Saturday, March 24; red carpet starts at 8:30 p.m., film at 9 p.m.
Price: $10 and up
Let us know what you think: Email email@example.com.