Alone, A Documentary
Loyola film instructor named a contender for an Oscar this year.
Last month I wrote about a local filmmaker who is using his medium to shed light on the crime problem in New Orleans with a TV pilot called “Shepherd” that just won a development meeting with HBO.
This month I’d like to highlight another person hoping to make a difference with her art — local filmmaker and Loyola film professor Garrett Bradley.
This New York native’s 13-minute documentary short called “Alone” won the 2017 Sundance Film Festival Short Film Jury Award, and on Dec. 5 the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced they had narrowed their field of Documentary Short Subject contenders for the Academy Awards from 77 to 10. “Alone” is one of those 10. The final five will be chosen Jan. 23.
That means 31-year-old Bradley could be up for her first Oscar this year, an idea she says is a “huge honor,” but that she hopes more than anything will lead to illuminating the issues her film addresses.
The issue? The personal toll that’s being wreaked on families and loved ones of the staggering one in 14 African-American men in Louisiana that are currently incarcerated.
“Alone” provides a heart wrenching account of a man named Desmond Watson — with whom Bradley had worked with on her first feature film, “Below Dreams” a few years ago.
“I got a call from his girlfriend, Alone Watts, that Desmond had been brought to jail,” Bradley said. “She was scared and alone and wondering what this meant for their future. I thought to myself, if I could take what I’m experiencing second-hand and use it, it could be an important story.”
With support from The New York Times/Op-Docs and the Sundance McArthur Short Film Fund, Bradley spent one month shooting with an all-local crew that included one of her students, Loyola digital filmmaking senior Daniela Leal, who served as the film’s assistant editor.
The short starts with Watson having been incarcerated for one year with no sentence and no verdict.
“That is actually something that happens a lot,” explained Bradley, “with thousands of prisoners throughout Louisiana. Because of budget issues right now, many don’t have access to free representation so they are left waiting around to get a lawyer. What’s illegal though, is that they are holding these people in prison while they wait.”
Instead of focusing on the politics and the prisoner, however, “Alone” focuses on its title character, Watson’s girlfriend, who is left struggling with what to do now. Watson wants to marry her. Does she do it?
“The film is from a woman’s perspective,” Bradley explained. “It’s about loneliness and love — things anybody can relate to and connect with, regardless of the politics.”
At one point, you see Watts trying on a wedding dress, describing how she wants to feel on her wedding day. In another you see her walk into a house and shut the door. At this point, all you get is the audio of Watts breaking the news that she is going to marry Watson in prison to what is assumed to be her mother and maybe a sister.
Immediately there’s angry screaming that keeps going, punctuated finally by the other women calmly saying, “That’s a bad decision. What is it going to do for y’all?”
What will it mean for her to marry someone in prison? Alone battles with this question.
Bradley said that Watson has since been sentenced to four years in prison. He and Watts are together, but still not married.
While she awaits the Oscar news, Bradley is about to release her next short, again a 13-minute film, this one shot this past April in Japan. The documentary is called “The Earth is Humming” and it’s about how Tokyo handles earthquake prevention.
In addition to making her own films and teaching filmmaking at Loyola, Bradley is also the co-founder of Creative Council, an artist-led after-school program that helps high schoolers interested in arts schools develop strong portfolios.
To see “Alone,” visit NYTimes.com/Alone.
Kimberley Singletary is the managing editor of Biz New Orleans magazine. A 20-year Southern California veteran, she has been surrounded by the film industry for most of her life.