No one playing a word association game would think “hotbed for cinematic creativity” if someone said “Georgetown University.” Not that that’s a fair stereotype—even the School of Foreign Service graduated the amazing Carl Reiner (SFS ’43). But whether you’d expect it or not, two Georgetown graduates—including one SFSer—produced documentaries that debuted at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, which finished up earlier this week.
And for his part, Nick Shumaker (COL ’01) was partially inspired by what he studied at Georgetown. He’s had a passion for ‘separatist religions’ since he studied Theology at Georgetown, he told the Voice, which played well into his production, American Mystic. The film, whose trailer you can view above, follows three young Americans as they explore alternative religions in rural parts of the country—Chuck, a Native American sundancer, Morpehus, a pagan priestess, and Kublai, a Spiritualist.
“It’s kind of a highly aestheticized view of religion …. the idea in mind being that mainstream American media has a very specific way of talking about religion. There’s this idea that there are the big three, Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, and the rest are just out there,” he said. “I wanted to explore ‘fringe’ religions, not apologizing for these people’s choices in life.”
Shumaker said he was also inspired by the time he spent as a reporter in Cuba, where he moved early in the decade, where he frequently watched Santería ceremonies, which began during slavery in the Caribbean as a way for Africans to disguise their religions as Christianity. He produced the film through the New York-based production company he founded, Empire 8 Productions, with director Alex Mar.
“It’s good. When you work independently, you get to make films that you care about,” he said. “There’s no project that I’ve worked on that wasn’t close in that regard.”
Heidi Ewing (SFS ’00), an Academy Award nominee who the Voice was not able to get in touch with, directed a film, too—Freakonomics: The Movie. Steven D. Levitt has officially gone from columnist to bestseller to movie star. Magnolia Pictures has secured the rights and the film will probably distribute this summer.