NOVEMBER 16, 2017 – BEVERLY – By the Sunday after Thanksgiving, even the most diehard football fan should be ready to trade leftover pie for popcorn and venture out to The Cabot, where Jeremy Levine, a Beverly native and Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker, will be returning home to screen his latest film, “For Ahkeem.”
The documentary tells the intimate story of Daje Shelton, a strong-willed, 17-year-old black girl in North St. Louis, MO. The audience walks beside her as her path takes her from public school expulsion to the court-supervised Innovative Concept Academy, an alternative school for delinquent youth and her last chance to earn a diploma.
Shot over a two-year period against the charged backdrop of nearby Ferguson, we witness Daje’s struggles as she copes with academic rigors, the murders and funerals of friends, teenage love, and a pregnancy that results in the birth of a son, Ahkeem.
For Levine, who attended Beverly High School and had his bar mitzvah at Temple B’nai Abraham, the film he codirected is more than a simple coming-of-age story.
“It highlights the horrible effects of the school-to-prison pipeline, where we suspend and expel huge numbers of students – especially black and brown students – and the impact that it has on girls like Daje from the time they’re 5 years old,” he said by phone from New York, where he and co-director Landon Van Soest run Transient Productions.
The film also approaches some of the most pressing social challenges facing America today: racism, social inequality, public education, police brutality, and a biased criminal justice system.
“We wanted to tell a deeply personal story about what it means to live your life when so many systems are set against you,” said Levine, an Ithaca College grad with a degree in documentary studies.
While Levine is thrilled that the film has been accepted by prestigious film festivals worldwide and garnered awards such as the Grand Jury Prize for Best Feature Documentary at Boston’s Independent Film Festival, for him the screenings and discussions at high schools and prisons fulfill a greater mission of trying to do better for future generations of children.
He credits the culture of Judaism and Hebrew School lessons “a part of my life growing up” with giving him a sense of responsibility to try to make the world a better place.
“Even in the story of Passover, where the Jewish people earn their freedom, all these other people who are the ‘enemies’ die. You have to feel sorrow for that,” he said.
“That kind of moral underpinning is definitely huge in the work I do.”
“For Ahkeem” will be shown at 4:30 p.m. on Nov. 26, at The Cabot, 286 Cabot St. in Beverly, as part of a Salem Film Fest presentation sponsored by the Salem Five Charitable Foundation. For more information or to buy tickets, visit thecabot.org.