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Major movie has Fairbanks connection

Director Chinonye Chukwu speaks to actor Jalyn Hall, who plays Emmett, on the set of <em>Till</em>.
Lynsey Weatherspoon
/
Orion Pictures
Director Chinonye Chukwu speaks to actor Jalyn Hall, who plays Emmett, on the set of Till.

The director of the recently released movie “Till” studied film at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. Chinonye Chukwu will be celebrated following a Sunday afternoon screening of the movie at the Goldstream Cinemas in Fairbanks


Chinonye Chukwu produced her first feature film in 2012 when she was a student at University of Alaska Fairbanks. Her professor, Maya Salganek, says she came to UAF after finishing college elsewhere, to pursue writing.

“And had taken some classes and ended up on a film set with me.”

Salganek’s students were making the film “Chronictown” in the winter of 2006.

“It was a tough shoot and it was being outdoors all the time. And then there was sort of the, you know, it's the boys club a lot of times in film. And I remember very clearly Chinonye and I having a real heart-to-heart at a tough moment, just saying, ‘Don't let other people define you. Don't let their version of you stop you from being the filmmaker you wanna be.’ And from there she decided, ‘Yeah, I don't wanna be a screenwriter, I wanna be a filmmaker.’”

She went on to graduate school, and in 2011, Chinonye Chukwu returned to UAF to produce the feature film AlaskaLand about the Nigerian to Alaska immigrant experience.

In 2019, she made Clemency about a prison warden dealing with executions, and won the dramatic grand jury prize at the Sundance Film Festival, the first black woman to take the top prize.

Now Chukwu has directed the movie Till, about Mamie Till-Mobley and her efforts to get justice for her 14-year old son, Emmett, who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955. Salganek has already seen the movie here in Fairbanks.

“There was one reporter whose review of it I read who said, ‘You need to see it, and you need to bring a teenager.’ I think that was really insightful. I sat in the theater holding the hand of my own 14-year-old … and knowing how much we've come as a nation and yet how far we still have to go is very self-evident in the film.”

Speaking in an interview with National Public Radio’s Tonya Mosley this week, Chukwu describes how her choices as a director for the film focused on justice, rather than the crime.

“A key was to show him in a humanizing way through Mamie's emotional point of view, as opposed to the camera taking on a voyeuristic lens and objectifying him. And so that's why when Mamie's looking at Emmett's body in the funeral home, his body is obstructed and we're just preserving the private, intimate moment that Mami is having in silence with her child. And then when we do start to see parts of his body, it's seeing Mamie's loving embrace of him,” Chukwu said.

Salganek has worked with Goldstream Cinema to hold a question and answer session after the film’s regular 3:00 p.m. showing on Sunday, November 6. She has invited guests from the NAACP to talk about the way Emmett Till’s killing and his mother’s quest for justice framed the civil rights movement.

“We'll be able to watch the film together in solidarity and in community. It's a tear jerker, so being able to watch it with people is a powerful effect.”

Tickets for the 3:00 p.m. Sunday showing can be purchased on the theatre’s website, or at the door.

Robyne began her career in public media news at KUAC, coiling cables in the TV studio and loading reel-to-reel tape machines for the radio station.