In case anyone missed the camera crew and general excitement that descended onto campus earlier in the year, the Department of Dance, Drama and Film is releasing its first ever feature-length film. “Gotta Get Down to It,” written and directed by Thomas S. Turgeon Professor of Drama Jonathan Tazewell ’84, will premiere in the Hill Theater tonight at 8 p.m. Subsequent screenings are slated for the same time on Friday and Saturday.
“Gotta Get Down to It” was filmed on Kenyon’s campus and made in collaboration with Kenyon students, faculty, staff and alumni.
Claire Fort ’07 stars as Val, an African-American professor at (surprise) a small liberal arts college, who is faced with a choice between her values and her career when her college invites a controversial speaker.
Unlike “Liberal Arts” (2012), which was also filmed at Kenyon, “Gotta Get Down to It” makes no effort to idealize the world of academia and the lives of college students. It deals not in nostalgia, but in today’s headlines and hot takes, touching on themes of transgender rights, discrimination and deportation as characters engage in debates about free speech and political correctness.
As one might expect, the film’s tone is on the heavier side. Though not entirely humorless, the bread and butter of “Gotta Get Down to It” are its scenes of high tensions and higher emotions. Roadblocks or devastating news often interrupt would-be lighthearted moments. The weight of the central conflict seems to swallow the characters, so that at times they come across as one-dimensional.
Still, the seriousness of the script allows the talents of the cast to shine.
Fort is impressive as Val, acing the “cool professor” character. Fort embodies Val’s internal struggle with convincing nuance, and her expert delivery of numerous emotional monologues deserves its own acknowledgment.
Also noteworthy is Chloe (Teddy) Hannah-Drullard ’20, whose talent for line delivery was a positive contribution to the film as a whole. The relationship between Hannah-Drullard’s character, Trey, and Rita Carmona’s ’19 character, Marisa, provided the film with its most tender moments, and the two characters’ interactions with their friend group anchored the plot in reality.
In terms of pacing, “Gotta Get Down to It” gets off to a slow start. Around the opening of the second act, however, the scenes begin to flow more naturally and the stakes feel higher, the events more gripping. The editing works well, especially considering the majority of it was done by students.
Tazewell crafts a convincing universe; although it may resemble the real one, the drama is so intense that it is easy to ignore the familiarity of the setting.
In “Gotta Get Down to It,” the bleakness of the shooting location — Kenyon in February — comes through on screen, but does not detract from the film. Rather, the snow and gray skies complement the film’s dry, realistic tone. There are no attempts to sugarcoat a situation born out of frustration and fear, one that could easily become a reality at many colleges in America.
Within the grim elements of “Gotta Get Down to It” lies a fighting determination — a call to action that would resonate with any audience, not just members of a college community. The film hesitates in letting its characters be happy, but it encourages them to remain hopeful.