By Abby Weingarten
For Bree Nieves and Kailah Santos ’14, New College was an oasis of creative self-discovery—where black and brown students came together in a cohort that valued activism and art.
The alumnae, who graduated in 2018, hope to return to campus soon to shoot parts of their film, Comet: A Slice of Life Short Film Set in Panhandle Florida. It is a story of multiculturalism and identity, and New College plays an integral role in the film’s journey.
“There aren’t many young women of color who are filmmakers working together right now, and it’s pretty rare to get a story written like the one we’ve written,” said Nieves, the film’s Filipina and Afro-Latinx writer/director (Santos, the writer/producer, is Puerto Rican). “As a child from a mixed-race family, I have worked to critically think about my experiences as a multicultural, second-generation woman of color within the American culture.”
Nieves’ story is told in the film through the lens of Felí, a 17-year-old mixed-race Catholic girl who is navigating life in the predominantly white Bible belt of North Florida. The character of Leo, portrayed by Miles Iton ‘14, plays a New College student who encourages Felí to pursue a liberal arts education (and Felí finds herself in the process).
“We would love to shoot at New College because it’s really the catalyst for these characters’ motivations in the film,” Nieves said. “If we were able to shoot there, it’s almost like we would be creating a universe where the characters could grow into who they are (and we could show these iconic spaces that are seared into our memories, like the bike ride over the bay or Caples campus).”
Nieves and Santos are in currently the process of finishing the final edits of the script and hope to shoot in early July throughout the Florida panhandle.
If they receive clearance to shoot at New College, it will help them delve further into the tale of Felí so she can grow into her character as a college-aged woman (and it will help Nieves and Santos grow Comet from a short to a feature film or an episodic TV series). Three friends from the 2018 graduating class at New College are also involved in the project: Iton, Paul Loriston and Giulia Heyward.
“It’s pretty much only people of color who are on crew and on camera,” Nieves said. “These are all friends we met at New College, and we ended up tribal in a sense.”
Nieves, who lives in Destin, graduated from New College with a bachelor’s degree in religion and philosophy (with concentrations in sociology and performative arts). She is currently earning a master’s degree in film and television directing from the MetFilm School in London, England. Comet will be her first short film directing debut, and it will be shown at MetFilm for her diploma as a master’s-level director.
Santos, the film’s Tampa-based writer/producer, earned a bachelor’s degree in English and Spanish literature from New College, and wrote a thesis entitled Imagining Decolonial Love: Decolonizing Racialized Gender Between the U.S. & Spanish Caribbean. Both Nieves and Santos were programmers for the Afro-Latinx Film Festival Committee during Black History Month at New College.
“Academic institutions function as a space for people to find themselves personally and professionally. New College has been that space,” Nieves and Santos wrote in the Comet film statement. “New College was a saving grace for our humanistic and freedom-seeking sensibilities. It is the epitome of the power a liberal institution gives young people to explore several subjects at once without our intellectual worth being defined by numbers.”
The film is as much about New College as it is about people like Nieves, Santos and many friends from their class, who felt outnumbered on a predominantly white campus. It is about race and social consciousness raising, which is certainly at the forefront of the peoples’ minds during a global civil rights uprising.
“When you’re in college, you go through an identity crisis, but I think students of color have an even deeper one,” Santos said. “This film is about learning to name and identify your pain. The character I play in the movie doesn’t know how to articulate her experience but she knows something’s wrong. People of color at New College experienced that, and when we got there, we got angry and learned to name it.”
They are continuing to name it as they watch the Black Lives Matter movement strengthen, and they are both cultivating deeper connections to their own black roots.
“A lot of people are unaware of the hypercolonization that goes into races. At the heart of it all, we are black indigenous people. And Puerto Rican people come in all shades,” Nieves said. “In this time of Black Lives Matter, you have to stand for Black Lives Matter even if you don’t look black because you have this lineage. And you need to still stand for your brothers and sisters who are suffering more than you are.”
For more information on Comet, visit kickstarter.com/projects/breenieves/comet-a-slice-of-life-short-film-set-in-panhandle-florida. To donate to the project (for production, kit and crew funding), email email@example.com (for Paypal) or Venmo @CometFilm
Abby Weingarten is the editor/writer in the Office of Communications & Marketing.