By Sophie Griffin
“When I was reading the script, I asked the script writer, did you look into my life?” Tramar Pettaway said of his newest project in a recent phone interview. The Southampton native and graduate of Southampton High School is the associate producer of a new film. Titled “Footprints of An Angel,” it is partially based on his own life experience.
The film, which is screening at the Southampton Cultural Center on Saturday, August 21, at 6 p.m., is about a woman named Claudette (Julia Garrison) who’s dying of cancer but having a difficult time telling her family about it. Her son Teric (Travis Carter), the character somewhat based on Pettaway, is trying to finish school and begin his acting career while processing what is going on with his mother. Other characters include Nana, played by singer Meli’sa Morgan, and Pearl, played by Pastor Bettina Pennon of the Galilee Church of God in Christ in Riverhead.
The film, written by Anthony Mealing and produced by his company Anthony Mealing Productions, was shot around Long Island and New York City in 2020, in the midst of the pandemic. It began as a project of Pettaway and a friend at Five Towns College, but didn’t gain much traction until Mealing came on board.
“All my life, I’ve been into performing,” Pettaway said. “I sang in school, in the chorus, in the gospel choir, all that. I did solo competitions, and I did theater. I had written a play years back called ‘Mama’s Last Song’ and I wanted it to make it into a film, but I didn’t know filmmaking was so costly.”
Pettaway had previously discussed the idea of working with Mealing, so went to him and asked if he could help turn his idea into a film script. The answer was yes, and after the script was written, the cast began to be assembled. For Meli’sa Morgan, it was her first film acting role.
“It was scary for me,” said Morgan. “I’ve been in the music industry since the ’80s, to Chaka Khan and all that — but being in a movie is really scary because there was no audience reactions. I had to do a scene in the church and I come from the church, I’ve sang in the church since I was 9 years old, but I had to do a scene and sing at my daughter’s funeral. It was nerve-wracking.”
Morgan will be one of the actors in attendance at the screening on Saturday. She is also working on a single version of the main song from the film to be released soon.
“She’s feisty,” Morgan said of her character. “She’s one of the younger mothers and let the kids do what they needed to do, but unfortunately her daughter, Claudette, got a little involved in the bad side of the streets with drugs and stuff like that. And by the time she cleaned herself up, she found out she was sick.
“So I go through the emotions of letting my daughter know that I’m there for her,” Morgan explained. “And that I love her no matter what. No matter who she is, no matter what she does.”
Travis Carter plays the lead role of Teric, a man struggling to deal with his mother’s illness.
“Teric is young, and still trying to find his way in the world, but the one thing he has to help him is his family,” Travis wrote of his character in an email. “[Tramar and I] worked closely and he was able to tell me about the real experiences behind some of the scenes, so I was able to get a better feel. I also added my own twist on it to bring the character more to life.”
Carter had a personal connection to the film — his own mother is a cancer survivor.
“To be fully in that scene felt surreal,” Carter wrote. “It had to be the most emotional day filled with tears and a lot of hugs and consoling. Being on set and crying for hours is also physically exhausting as well … The cast and crew were really good about making sure everyone was emotionally okay knowing it was a hard scene.”
Carter also emphasized the relationships he formed on set and the gratitude he had to be part of the project.
“I feel like from the middle of day one onward, we all felt like a real family,” Carter wrote. “From the actors to the whole film crew and producers. We had a level of comfortability that comes with knowing people for years. With that family-oriented feel it made every day on set something to look forward to… It really felt like a family.”
The best films, the best art in general, are powerful because they make the viewer feel like the story is personal. And in the case of “Footprints of an Angel,” it really is.
The Southampton Cultural Center is located at 25 Pond Lane, Southampton. The screening of “Footprints of An Angel” begins at 6 p.m. on Saturday, August 21. The film will be released in 2022.