Donavan Myles Edwards centers love in debut short film ‘Lavender Boy’

The movie has screened at the LGBTQ+ Los Angeles Film Festival, the Phoenix Film Festival and the San Francisco Queer Film Festival, among others

Andy Downing
Columbus Alive
Donavan Myles Edwards

When Donavan Myles Edwards was 11 or 12 years old, he walked out of the theater following a screening of “Tron: Legacy” knowing that he one day wanted to make movies of his own.

“It was the first movie I saw that showed me what movies can be,” said Edwards, whose debut short film, “Lavender Boy,” is currently making its way through the festival circuit, screening at the LGBTQ+ Los Angeles Film Festival, the Phoenix Film Festival and the San Francisco Queer Film Festival, among others. “Having your imagination run wild, that’s still something I want people to feel to this day.”

In the years since, Edwards, 21, has also grown increasingly enamored with the way films can help bring historical events to life, either placing them in a new context or even using them as a means of commenting on the current state of the world. And it’s these leanings that surface most cleanly in “Lavender Boy,” a short film set amid the “lavender scare” of the 1950s, a moral panic during which government employees who were believed to be gay or lesbian were labeled national security risks and communist sympathizers and subsequently dismissed from their jobs.

"For some reason, I felt so much pain and agony, because a lot of these people were serving their country, and to be shooed away and fired and discarded was completely heartbreaking for me,” said Edwards, who bypassed film school but currently works for Columbus-based Loose Films, which recently screened its debut full-length, “Poser,” at the Tribeca Film Festival (Edwards served as an assistant editor on the movie). “I want to entertain the audience, but also I really want to teach, because movies, they’re a very powerful tool. They can be used to spark some good in the world, and to really inspire people.”

More:Columbus filmmakers bring ‘Poser’ to New York’s Tribeca Film Festival

Edwards, who described himself as a fan of history — “It was the only class in high school I actually cared about or paid attention to,” he said, and laughed — first became aware of the lavender scare during an airport layover, when out of boredom he started watching video essays on the Vox YouTube channel. “And the first video essay I happened to watch was one on the lavender panic,” Edwards said. “And it struck me that the U.S. government was turning its back on its own citizens, which we’ve seen before with African Americans, Native Americans, Asian Americans."

After watching the first video, Edwards sought out any material related to the scare that he could find, devouring podcasts, reading magazine articles and digging up old news clips. Gradually, a narrative for a movie started to take shape, but one in which these historical elements served to buttress a more human love story at the film’s core. (The longest scene in the short focuses on the main character’s anguished reaction to the end of the relationship.)

“Me being an African American and not a part of the LGBT community, I’ve always felt that these marginalized communities have a lot of similarities,” said Edwards, who filled his crew with as many women and people of color as he could, believing that having a range of diverse voices on set would provide perspectives he might have otherwise missed in the process of making the movie. “I wanted to come at it with that idea of writing what you know, and what I do know is love, and how that can feel when it’s taken away. ... So, at its core, the movie is basically a love story."

Edwards, along with a small cast and crew, filmed a bulk of “Lavender Boy” in an Airbnb in West Alexandria, Ohio, in July 2020. Due to a then-raging coronavirus pandemic, along with the usual array of cameras, lighting equipment and sound gear, the filmmaker also had cart in hand sanitizer, masks and disinfectant sprays, which were used to wipe down the set between takes.

Edwards said the scale of the production, even at this modest level, was a far cry from the work he had previously produced on his own, beginning with the videos he shot on his iPhone at age 14. “I never saw those as films, because to me films have actual actors and a script,” he said. “They were just corny videos of me and my dog, or me playing basketball.”

Gradually, though, Edwards graduated to making videos for the high school football and basketball teams, and then local businesses, finally landing a job with Loose Films in 2019, which has allowed him the opportunity to more fully pursue his passions. Up next, the director plans to begin work on “Letters from Jasper,” another short film with a historical backbone, but one which Edwards hopes will “inspire young Black and brown kids … to push through obstacles.”

“I’m excited, because this one is going to be more than a film. There’s going to be a website where we’ll have actual resources for people to learn things, and a volunteer event where we’re going to give out food and other things for the less fortunate,” said Edwards, who plans to start filming in July. “Part of it comes from the way I was raised, realizing the privileges I do have and just wanting to help everybody and anybody I can. What I get to do with film is the perfect, happy medium for me.”