Art in the City

St. Petersburg-based Filmmaker Makes Film About Art Healing War Wounds

When St. Petersburg-based indie filmmaker Jabaar Edmonds set out to make his current film, äóìArt in the City,äó he knew it wouldnäó»t be a financial success. But that wasnäó»t the goal

The feature-length movie follows a homeless military veteran, named Danny, who struggles with PTSD and uses art as therapy.

äóìThis isnäó»t a profitable subject,äó Edmonds said. äóìBut it was something I was very passionate about.äó

Before he got into filmmaking, Edmonds did photography. Back in 2010, he was photographing the dismantling of Pinellas Hopeäó»s tent city. There he met a veteran with PTSD in a bleak situation.

äóìA lot of vets, unfortunately, like the one I met at the tent city, self-medicate with substances,äó Edmonds said. äóìBut I thought äóÖwhat if I could create a character who self-medicated through the arts to treat PTSD?äó»äó

And thatäó»s when he paired up with St. Pete-based actor Cranstan Cumberbatch to make äóìArt in the Cityäó.

The biggest challenge, Edmonds said, was really getting the story right.

äóìWe didnäó»t want to point fingers and we also wanted to tell a fictional triumphant story based on reality,äó he said.

Spoiler Alert: in Edmonds film, Danny becomes a successful artist.

äóìWe know thatäó»s a little bit of fantasy,äó Edmonds said. äóìBut this movie is supposed to be a rainbow in a storm.äó

He said the goals of the movie were to highlight the plight of homeless vets and inspire people to help them.

While the movie is fiction, there are real-life parallels of art helping veterans in Pinellas county.

Enter the Veterans Art Center Tampa Bay (VACTB), created to provide art as therapy to veterans and first responders.

Thatäó»s where you can usually find Larry Busbyäó»s photographs of nature. Busby was a photographer in the Navy, fought fires as a park ranger and worked with the Red Cross as a first responder to natural disasters.

While Busby didnäó»t see combat or deal with homelessness, heäó»s a veteran who struggled with depression, suicidal ideation and substance abuse.

äóìIn the military, weäó»re trained to stuff our feelings,äó he said. äóìYouäó»re part of a killing machine, after all.äó

When he left the Navy in 1988, he put his camera down. Technology changed. His life did too. He slipped into depression. After talking to a therapist, he was told to get a hobby. So he had to relearn photography in the digital age.

äóìNow, Iäó»m able to get lost in the moment Iäó»m photographing and I just forget everything,äó he said. äóìI just get lost in timeäó

Busby said the VATCB was able to help him get recognition. His work is now on display at the David A. Straz Center along the Tampa Riverwalk and selling at the Mermaid Bay Mercantile. But most importantly, he said the VATCB gave him a second chance.

äóìWhen you walk in here, you feel like youäó»re at home and that makes veterans feel more comfortable than in a VA clinic settingäóîweäó»re more likely to open up here,äó he said. äóìAnd here, you see how veterans can create art that tells a story or creates a discussion of healing.äó

As for Jabbar Edmondäó»s film, äóìArt in the City,äó it screened at the Muvico Sundial last month. On February 18 there will be a screening at the Muvico Sundial, February 25, thereäó»s a planned screening at the Royal Theater and a potential screening at the Sunscreen Film Festival. Edmonds said he wants to have a special screening for St. Petersburgäó»s city council.

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