Emily Henderson

Deputy Editor

Cameras flashing; the red carpet rolled out; fancy clothes all encompass the glitz and the glamor of a movie premiere. On the opening night of the Downtown Los Angeles Film Festival on Sept. 14, where the Whittier College community could go experience the world premiere of Carlos in the Tall Grass (directed by Rick Dominguez and produced by Whittier College professors Patti McCarthy and Jennifer Holmes), a short film called Post No Bills was to be played. And to talk about said film, Whittier College alumni Francis Maxwell came to the Hartley House on Sept. 13. 

After a social mixer full of finger foods provided by in-house professor Becky Overmyer-Velázquez, our small group entered the Hartley House to sit down for an enlightening discussion with Maxwell. In our cozy setting, Maxwell immediately dived into the story of his life before, during, and after graduating in 2014. After being born and raised in Scotland his entire life, Maxwell desired a change. He wanted to see and experience as many perspectives as he could, and he knew Whittier could do just that. He studied Sociology and took as many classes as he could. One of his favorites was a class entitled “Racial and Ethnic Relation With Popular Religion”, saying that it “blew his mind!” He emphasized that Sociology could lead someone into any field they wanted, saying that it “well prepared him for the unknown.” Alongside his studies, he was on the soccer team and worked for the Quaker Campus! 

The after-graduation “What do I do now?” was real for Maxwell. And after scouring for anything, he found work at an advertising agency that made trade show signs. He bluntly states that he was “bad at it.” He “knew he was destined for something else”, which led him back to the job market. He knew he wanted to stay in America, and after playing soccer professionally in his college career, he had a fascination for sports. More specifically, he loved discussing intersectionality and how that pertained in sports. During this time when football player and social rights activist Colin Kapernick began kneeling during the national anthem, Maxwell was fascinated by him and what he was doing to protest the injustices in the United States.  (Fast-forward to now, he and Kapernick are now good friends!) He wanted to pursue activism on a larger scale, and knew that journalism was the way to go. He got an interview at a company called The Young Turks (TYT), which is a video production service that “delivers… fact based, timely news, and progressive commentary.” Maxwell jokes that he was thirty-five minutes late to the meeting before he stepped into the office, he saw actor Tobey Macguire. Maxwell continues saying that he was “already late, so why not talk to him.” He eventually interviewed, and got the job. Whilst being with the company, he learned the core of journalistic integrity. Maxwell says that the thesis of any journalistic pursuit he has is that he will “continue to be upset until people take notice.” This directly affected the documentary he produced with TYT, called Francis Maxwell Reports From Uganda Refugee Camp

Released on World Refugee Day, Maxwell travels to Uganda and reports on the refugees from South Sudan, focusing on a 13 year old Sudanese girl who was playing soccer in the camp. The young girl insisted that both Uganda and South Sudanese individuals play together, not on opposite teams. Being the sports representative for TYT, Maxwell wanted to focus on how sports can be a unifying experience for all, no matter where you were or what your background was. Because of this documentary, he won the BBC Humanitarian Award for the Documentary category, specifically for being able to weave a social message without being upfront in it. He knew he did not want to sway an audience in any certain viewpoint because on his arrival to Uganda, he was taken on a tour of the country immediately after leaving the airport. He noticed that the tour was trying to persuade him that the refugees were there because they were bad themselves. Maxwell disagreed with this, and upon looking deeper into his research, he found that there were locals that were trying to persuade him in the other direction. Maxwell knew he had to make a documentary that just stayed true to journalistic integrity, and that is exactly what he did. 

This way of storytelling came with some difficulties, however, Maxwell recounts that upon uploading the documentary to YouTube, it started getting flooded with negative comments. People believed that the video was “propaganda”, because “people do not like refugees”, as Maxwell states. But what mattered most to Maxwell was getting the story out there. “If you try to please everyone, they will skew the narrator. If you let in outside noise, [it] will say nothing.” This view of journalism as a form of storytelling allowed Maxwell to continue on his career, and start his own story as a director. 

Maxwell knew he wanted to tell a story that had an essence of truth to it– because that is what he had done his entire career so far. So, he took this insight to the streets. Specifically, the streets of New York City. Maxwell had been living there for a bit, and in the short time he had been residing, he noticed immediately that the neighborhoods that he remembered moving in were changing. He was not the only one to notice this as well. Walking the streets, Maxwell and his friends would hear long-time residents complain about the extensive gentrification happening, and how it would affect specifically residents of color. This is how the title of the short film came to be. One day, Maxwell and his friend were walking down the street, and on many posts, one may see signs that say “Post No Bills”. This means that someone is not allowed to post advertisements in that area. Well in response to that, a man was upset and said, “What if I want to post bills!?” The creation of the title was then born! 

The pandemic only heightened this detrimental process, and truly showcased how essential low-income workers were to these places. And yet gentrification does not care. To dive deeper into this topic, Maxwell highly recommends the book To Kill A City by P.E. Moskowitz. So, with this idea in mind, Maxwell knew what he needed to direct. 

His crew (consisting of mostly Whittier College alumni) began shooting the exteriors of New York City in Jan. of 2020. They then flew to Los Angeles and shot the entire rest of the short film in four days. Funnily enough, they shot the exteriors on the coldest day in NYC, and began filming on the hottest day in Los Angeles! Maxwell states that the filming process was incredibly difficult for him being a first time director, but he always kept going back to the idea to “start as broad as you can, then [to] bring it in, and find the core.” This core being his two loves– journalism and storytelling. He knew he wanted to focus on the more ‘human side’ of gentrification, and how communities now are bred more to be individualized than together, and the detrimental nature of these actions. Maxwell truly wanted to showcase the empathy and heart of the people that are impacted by gentrification. 

Along with the eventual COVID-19 pandemic that would soon shut down production of the short film, the other struggle Maxwell faced was staying true to journalistic integrity. He knew he did not want to be “preachy”, and wanted to focus more on the emotional side, which reflects his current status in the world. While he loves journalism, he loves the medium of filmmaking, due to the fact that it is more “empathy driven”, but he never wants to get rid of his journalism roots. He loves films that have no journalism in it, but the emotional pull makes an audience very aware of it. Some of the films he highlights include Roma by Alfonso Cuarón; Parasite by Bong Joon-Ho; Trainspotting by Danny Boyle;  Happy Go Lucky by Mike Lee; Get Out by Jordan Peele;  A Few Good Men by Rob Reiner, and his favorite Moonlight by Barry Jenkins. Maxwell states that a lot of the films he draws inspiration from are incredibly character driven, which goes directly back into how he views the balance between journalism and storytelling. Maxwell continues by saying that “journalism gave [him] the world… [and] the characters [are] the imagination [to] explain the world.” 

The short film Post No Bills will be screening in Nashville, Tennessee at the end of September. This film will also be premiering in Downtown Los Angeles at both the Downtown Los Angeles Film Festival and the Los Angeles Diversity Film Festival. There will also be screenings in Chicago and Santa Barbara at their respective film festivals. Maxwell ended the night saying that it “blows his mind that he made a film,” but while he can not believe it, we are all incredibly grateful. 

Featured Photo: Sage Amdahl/Quaker Campus

Authors

  • Quaker Campus

    In collaboration by Quaker Campus staff members.

  • Emily Henderson

    Emily Henderson is the Assistant News Editor for the Quaker Campus. She is a second-year English Creative Writing major with a Film Studies minor. When trying to relax from work and school, she likes to read epic fantasy novels, watch cartoons, go to Disneyland, and drink unhealthy amounts of tea.

In collaboration by Quaker Campus staff members.
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