The local filmmaker is seeking investors for “Godspeed”

When Celia Peters was living in New York City, she faced a situation in the subway that left her paralyzed with indecision.

“I saw a person who was in the corner on the ground who had shot up and still had the needle sticking out of their arm,” she said. “I stood there for a long time until I saw them breathe.”

The scene left her with several questions. What was her responsibility in that situation? Was it her place to tell someone not to use drugs without knowing them or their circumstances? But what if their life was in danger?

“I went back and forth with myself, and so I made a film about it,” she said.

For a short film called “Commuters,” Peters recreated the scene with an actor to observe how real passersby would respond.

“A lot of people didn't look, [and] a lot of people didn't even really notice, which is incredible,” she said. “I think that a lot of people who live in the city get to be desensitized. … But for me, I wasn't used to it, and I really didn't want to get used to it.”

Since then, Peters has been creating more films that address complex questions that society faces or will grapple with in the future. For example, her short film “Roxë15” explored the boundary between virtual reality and physical reality.

“[It's] about a woman who is a virtual reality programmer,” Peters said. “She's in a program that she created, and she encounters something she didn't put there. … You're left with the question of, ‘How will this affect her?' I didn't answer the question because I don't really know.”

Peters, who relocated to Columbus for a job, is currently raising money for her new science fiction film, “Godspeed.” It was inspired by a troubling social observation.

“I started being very frustrated with encountering people of color and black people who were self-hating, and who were contemptuous of other people of color and other black people,” she said. “I was just like, ‘I can't even understand this. It's bad enough to deal with prejudice from other people.'”

In response, Peters created a black female protagonist in “Godspeed” who is struggling with her identity. A brainy tech editor, Brandy becomes obsessed with creating an algorithm to help her company. She eventually discovers the algorithm plays a greater role in her life, as she learns she is not human.

“I would hope that people understand that, yes, there are mathematically inclined black women out there who just like that stuff,” Peters said. “That's just as real and valid, if not more so, than a lot of what is shown in film.”

Peters is similar to her protagonist in that she also grew up with an interest in math and science. She studied political science as an undergrad, then began pursuing a graduate degree in psychology at New York University before realizing her passion was in film.

“All of my extracurricular activities were film-related,” she said. “I eventually got to a fork in the road.”

Peters has immersed herself in the Columbus film community, even landing a residency at the Wexner Center to complete her last short film, “Mission.” She recently presented a “Godspeed”-based installation at the “Wonderball” event at the Columbus Museum of Art.

She has also impressed others in the industry, like cinematographer Jendra Jarnagin, who is shooting “Godspeed.”

“She sent me the script and I absolutely loved it,” Jarnagin said on a call from the Sundance Film Festival. “I thought it was very unique and bold and creative and visual. And I just loved her taste and her style.”

And Jarnagin feels optimistic about the film's reception as the industry becomes more diverse. “I've seen a huge change in the past few years in the level of interest and commitment to … really open the doors that have been closed to qualified, professional women,” she said.

Films like “Black Panther” have also shown a growing platform for Afrofuturism, a concept that dates back to jazz musician Sun Ra, who released science fiction film “Space is the Place” in 1974.

“Space for him was a place where black people could go and be free and be happy and … escape all the turmoil of the '60s,” Peters said.

But beyond that, Afrofuturism also inspires black people to “choose an alternative to everything that was dictated in your mind in terms of your creative life [or] how you existed,” she said. “Your state of mind could be different.”

As an Afrofuturism film, “Godspeed” will further increase representation for black audiences. “[People] don't understand how significant it is for black sci-fi fans to see a story where they are reflected in the characters who are driving the story,” she said. “And it's not about them being oppressed because they're black.”