Tazmanian Devil, the debut feature-length film written and directed by Solomon Onita Jr. MFA ’16, won the inaugural John Singleton Director Award for Best First Feature at the 2020 American Black Film Festival (ABFF) on August 30. The award came with a $5,000 cash prize.
Filmed in Dallas and set in Arlington, Texas, the film tells the story of 19-year-old Nigerian immigrant Dayo who struggles with his desire to join a college fraternity while also maintaining a close bond with his estranged and strict father, a pastor at a local church.
Onita Jr. wrote and directed the film and Frank Cohen MFA ’16 served as its producer. Fellow alum Mike Buchbauer MFA ’16 was the director of photography.
”I feel very honored to be the first recipient of this award,” Onita Jr. said. ”Mr. Singleton has been a filmmaker I’ve looked up to and made attempts to model my career after. In my first year of grad school at LMU SFTV, I attended a talk he gave at the school and felt inspired by his words and his career arc. His films have touched me deeply. I’m proud to be able to walk in his shadows as I begin my filmmaking career.”
Cohen, the film’s producer, read Onita Jr.’s script shortly after they both graduated from LMU SFTV and ”knew this was a special story that needed to be told,” he said. ”Helping bring his vision to life was an amazing and rewarding experience. I’m extremely grateful to SFTV for bringing gifted creative collaborators such as Solomon and Mike (DP Mike Buchbauer) into my life.”
Onita Jr.’s work has shown at ABFF in years prior. His short film JOY debuted there in 2015, which led to the chance to screen the film later on HBO. ”ABFF has always been a home for me,” he says. ”I feel truly blessed and honored to be in this position, and thank them for their embrace and support.”