African American, Women-led production company to film movie in Grand Rapids
Grand Rapids neighborhoods will soon be featured on the big screen. Branch Out Productions, an African American, women-led company, has started pre-production on its latest film, Block Party, centered in the Martin Luther King Park area.
Block Party centers around Harvard grad KeKe McQueen, played by Antoinette Robertson, a woman eager to leave her beloved hometown of Grand Rapids, for a more lucrative career in Atlanta. However, when she discovers her grandmother is showing early signs of dementia, she must put her career at stake to saver her grandma's annual Juneteenth Block party, falling back in love with the neighborhood and its people.
Lisa Mathis, President of Branch Out Productions, is a Grand Rapids native and said the story was inspired by some of her earliest memories as a child.
"I'm from Grand Rapids Michigan, and I used to always go to Martin Luther King Park, because I had cousins who lived around here. It's just such a wonderful neighborhood when I was growing up, and I really wanted to highlight it because it's something you don't always see," Mathis said, "... I know a lot of kids that go off to college, especially the first generation kids that go off to college in some of these neighborhoods like the Martin Luther King Park neighborhood, they have challenges sometimes trying to bring back together their new life and their own life and figure out a way to kind of navigate that whole world. So you know I kind of want to explore that with the character of Keke."
The movie is set to film in September, and the company is on the search for diverse local talent. Mathis explained lack of tax credits in Michigan, made filming in Grand Rapids more expensive but adds the representation is worth the cost.
"It was really important for us to Be example and let people see, you know, African-American women shooting a film in Grand Rapids for younger people, especially in the Martin Luther King Park area," she said.
One of the production company's missions is to bring more opportunity in film production to Michigan. It is hiring a Michigan-based casting director and will begin holding auditions this month.