Local documentary one of many films featured at second annual festival

Donte Woods-Spikes attended last year's Columbus Black International Film Festival. He had purchased a one-day ticket to the inaugural event, but a friend gave him an extra to check out the whole weekend. What he saw inspired him, in more ways than one.

“I watched so many films, so many documentaries, people getting stories out there that they wanted to tell. I just knew I had to submit [a film],” Woods-Spikes said in an interview at a Downtown coffee shop. “You can talk yourself out of things. The festival gave me that sense of bravery … that I know I can do this.”

Woods-Spikes is a filmmaker by circumstance. While a student at Columbus State Community College, he was told by a professor about community work being done at First English Lutheran Church on the Near East Side, and he started tagging along to see for himself. Woods-Spikes found a pastor and congregation fully engaged with the surrounding community, and vowed to do the same.

“My eyes opened up to so many things that I thought I knew but I didn't know,” said Woods-Spikes, who grew up in the Linden and Driving Park neighborhoods. “I saw that and was like, ‘This is what I need to do. This is my community.'”

He began mentoring a group of young men from the neighborhood. When one was killed — an older boy to whom the others in the group looked up — Woods-Spikes set out to document the lives, thoughts, feelings and dreams of the group.

“These were boys who got stereotyped, were viewed as bad, as criminals. But my mind was blown at how they thought, and how much they knew, and how they felt the world perceived them,” Woods-Spikes said. “They'd lost one of their own and they were saying things like, ‘I'm just preparing for death,' and, ‘It's too late,' and, ‘I miss being a kid.'”

“My heart dropped,” he continued. “I wanted to be able to tell their story in their own voice. Not everyone has the kind of access to those things that I do. I figured the best way was to do it myself.”

The church provided him with a simple camera, and Woods-Spikes went to work. Soon, he was documenting the work of local artist Richard Duarte Brown, whose Transit Arts shared space with Central Community House, where Woods was working at the time. “Duarte's art tells stories, and I wanted people to know about it,” Woods-Spikes said. In short order, Woods-Spikes found himself documenting the work of many of Brown's artist friends and colleagues, and shooting video at local arts and community events.

“Duarte and others started telling me that this was my way of making art, that I shouldn't take it lightly,” said Woods-Spikes, who eventually upgraded his equipment on his own. “I said, ‘I'm not an artist like you guys are, I just take videos.' And they said that is being an artist. So I just started to accept it.”

Another longtime mentee of Woods-Spikes' is Day'Mariah Faust. They met early on in Woods-Spikes' mentoring experience and formed a special friendship. Recently, Woods-Spikes set out to document the unique qualities of their relationship, and the short, preliminary result of that work is captured in “Donte and Day'Mariah,” which screens during the Homegrown Shorts block on Saturday, Aug. 25, at Gateway Film Center as part of the second annual Columbus Black International Film Festival.

“She's getting ready to go to middle school, and I know our relationship is necessarily going to have to change. We're past the cute stage,” Woods-Spikes said. “So I wanted to do a documentary that talked about effective mentorship, how men play a role in young girls' lives, and what happens when we don't support young girls as they're becoming adults. A lot of times, we wait until something bad happens to get involved. Can we be proactive and not wait until a girl gets pregnant or abused?”

The film, which Woods-Spikes plans to expand into a full-length documentary, plays a role in his mentorship of Day'Mariah, letting her talk about things that are important to her and showing the value Woods-Spikes places on their friendship.

Festival founder Cristyn Steward said “Donte and Day'Mariah” is one of a collection of local films that “we want to showcase.”

“This year, the production quality and value of the work is at a whole different level from last year,” Steward continued. “What we want to do is to give opportunities to people telling their own stories, finding ways to tell other stories and control the narrative of the black experience.”

As for Woods-Spikes, he figures he's still just getting started.

“I'm not waiting. I'm just gonna run my mouth as much as I can and keep making videos,” he said. “Just keep doing what I do.”