ATLANTA — “Color Book,” a feature film written and directed by David F. Fortune, tells the story of a widower on Atlanta’s eastside raising a son with Down syndrome.

The 115-minute movie, which explores setbacks experienced by father and son as they attempt to attend their first baseball game together, made its world premiere last weekend at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York City, as part of the festival’s “Viewpoints” competition.

“Color Book” stars actor Will Catlett as Lucky, father to 11-year-old Mason, played by actor Jeremiah Daniels, who lives with Down syndrome. The story takes place throughout metro Atlanta, including various MARTA stations and near Truist Park.

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“Atlanta is such a beautiful community, and I really wanted to tell a humble, intimate portrait of Atlanta that we often don’t get a chance to see,” Fortune said.

Fortune discovered his passion for filmmaking when he was a student at Morehouse. He started studying the craft of making films, starting with Spike Lee, then studying international filmmakers like Andrei Tarkovsky and Alfonso Cuarón. Through their works, Fortune learned to craft films using a slowed pace, allowing him to tell character-driven stories.

“The power of cinema allows you to see an entire world that’s totally different from yours and find common ground,” Fortune said.

Fortune creates compassion with “Color Book” by using extended flashback sequences, slow crawls and soft, personable camera shots, inspired by portraits captured by Black photographers like Gordon Parks and Carrie Mae Weems.

Fortune told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution “Color Book” was shot intentionally in black and white.

“Black and white is a narrative choice that helps viewers lean into characters rather than the world,” he said. “It enhances the characters’ relationships instead of what’s going on around them.”

He adds critique of the surge of film and television projects around Atlanta, which often neglect to make the city a character in the storytelling, he believes. “There are a lot of productions that take place in Atlanta but no stories being told of Atlanta,” Fortune said.

He hopes his film is different, and audiences will relate to “the space that raised me.”

Fortune came up with the premise for the film in 2018, while finishing film school at Loyola Marymount University. He wanted to tell a story about a Black father raising his son and was encouraged by one of his professors to follow his dream.

“I just wanted to take that lens, apply it to East Atlanta and Decatur, and bring something that’s a bit more nuanced,” he said. “I wanted to see people who had disabilities in the Black community have their stories elevated.”

The aspiring auteur interviewed parents around metro Atlanta whose children were affected by the condition before writing the script.

“I grew up here and saw the humanity, struggles, joys, ups and downs in everybody. This was the place that taught me life lessons, and I can now depict those humble beginnings in my films,” he said.

Fortune was accepted into directing labs by Netflix, Paramount Television, Village Roadshow and Urbanworld Film Festival. His relationship with Tribeca Film Festival began in 2021 during a fellowship with Indeed x Hillman Grad Productions’ Rising Voices Program, founded by Emmy Award-winning writer/producer Lena Waithe.

The incubator program funded and supported his short film “Shoebox,” which premiered at Tribeca. Fortune says director’s labs taught him to be intentional with creative choices and business decisions.

“They provided me with a canvas and a platform to nurture my voice,” Fortune said. “I knew how to budget, schedule, and the landscape of what it took to make a professional project.”

In 2023, Fortune earned a $1 million grant as the festival’s sixth winner of its “Untold Stories” competition to produce his feature film debut over a year. Even before Fortune applied for Tribeca’s “Untold Stories” program, he was confident “Color Book” fit the submission criteria but ran into production challenges.

After securing funding to make “Color Book,” the Writers Guild of America and Screen Actors Guild strikes delayed his schedule. He was able to cast actors, hire crew and begin shooting in January, but timelines were tight, as “Color Book” had to be submitted to the Tribeca Film Festival in May.

“I only had five weeks to edit the film, and that’s almost impossible for a feature,” Fortune said. Still, he didn’t let the time crunch prevent him from meeting his deadline. “If you give me a million dollars, it’s up to me to deliver it.”

Plaza and Tara Theatre owner Christopher Escobar, one of “Color Book’s” producers, assisted Fortune with funding and hosted events to support the project.

“David is a terrific filmmaking talent, and it was a privilege to help support his vision coming to fruition,” Escobar said.

Catlett agreed. “Making films is painful. Playing characters is painful. The process is painful. If you’re growing up in Decatur or any inner-city in the USA, it’s painful. But if there’s no pain there’s no joy. If there’s no pain there’s no beauty,” he insisted as he described the process of bringing Mason’s father Lucky to life on-screen.

“There’s beauty hidden inside of your pain; you just have to go through it. This is what Lucky discovers. Most fathers aren’t able to show up because of the pain but if they stick around then they will be able to find the joy and love in raising a son like Mason.”

Daniels said he was grateful for the opportunity to work on “Color Book” alongside Catlett, who he described as an amazing actor, while also praising Fortune’s leadership on the set.

“I feel honored to be able to bring David’s creation to life in a realistic and relatable way,” Daniels said. “This experience has forever changed me … ‘Color Book’ is family.”

Fortune accepts the praise and says the goal of “Color Book” was just to have impact.

“If I can leave the theater knowing the audience spent time with these two characters, that’s all I can ask for.”

© 2024 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC

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