This year’s Charlottesville Indie Short Films Series is right around the corner, with a selection of independent short films as well as a panel of directors all happening July 30. One of the directors selected is award-winning André Joseph, whose latest short film, “Dismissal Time,” will screen as part of the film series.
Joseph, who hails from Staten Island, sat down with The Cavalier Daily after premiering his film in Pennsylvania to talk about his filmmaking experience and what he hopes “Dismissal Time” will accomplish here in Charlottesville.
“We’ve done a number of short films, with ‘Dismissal Time’ being our fifth or sixth professionally made short film,” Joseph said.
The “we” Joseph refers to is AJ Epyx productions — his independent production company, founded shortly after Joseph graduated from Emerson College in 2006. Through AJ Epyx, Joseph quickly produced his first short film, a romantic comedy with a heist twist. Alongside its selection of short films, AJ Epyx Productions has since also produced music videos, promos and videography for events in New York City.
Unlike Joseph’s previous cinematic offerings, “Dismissal Time” is a deeply personal endeavor that is based on events that happened in Joseph’s own life as well as several incidents he has read in the news.
“Dismissal Time” follows a black Catholic school student named T.K. as he deals with the fallout of his romantic interest in a white classmate, which leads to cyberbullying, harassment and false accusations of planning a school shooting. While the school administrators tell T.K. that they will stand up for him, they end up sweeping the entire incident under the rug. Joseph talked about how T.K. was a loose stand-in for himself and that no one was ever held accountable when he went through a nearly identical experience in his youth.
In Joseph’s eyes, his treatment by his peers and the school administration was not just a moral failure on behalf of the people involved, but active racial injustice on an institutional level. This attitude led him to direct “Dismissal Time” in an era of increased visibility of racial politics.
Joseph is especially aware of how Charlottesville has been impacted by the indifferent institutional attitudes he criticizes in “Dismissal Time.” The traumatic events of the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally, a white supremacist rally in downtown Charlottesville that turned deadly when a car hit and killed resident Heather Heyer, are especially important in the film’s relevance to screening in Charlottesville.
“I'm a very private person who kept this kind of, you know, suppressed for a very long time,” Joseph said. “And I think between what happened in Charlottesville in 2017, all the way up to the murder of George Floyd and the protests that sparked as a result, a lot of those old feelings started to come back.”
Joseph’s goal for the film was not to chase awards or revenue, but to put forward a statement of solidarity that Joseph felt needed to be released sooner rather than later.
“Maybe for somebody going through my situation and the situation in the film, they know they're not alone and they could feel like there's somebody that understands what's going on out there,” said Joseph. “And you'll be able to let them speak out when they see an injustice like this.”
Joseph emphasized the incredible amount of support he received from cast and crew in telling this story. He described the energy throughout the production process as determined and sincere, with no one involved with the film giving “a half-way performance.”
“Dismissal Time” premiered at the Philadelphia Independent Film Festival in June 2022. Rather than an end credit scroll, the film ends with a slideshow of different real-life stories of Black teens who were profiled and harassed, some of whom took their own lives. Joseph described the immediate reaction to the film as heavy silence, but the Q&A session after the screening gave audience members the opportunity to respond to the film in personal ways.
“That was probably the most cathartic for me, even more so than doing the scenes in the film, was just hearing people speak out about their own issues, their own stories they went through when they were young,” said Joseph.
Joseph is excited to bring that same discussion atmosphere to Charlottesville.
“The story is important and significant to playing in this town,” Joseph said. “So I'm really excited to hopefully generate a good audience reaction from it. Whatever the outcome is, I'll be happy with just being able to talk to people and hopefully they could share their stories with me.”
“Dismissal Time” will screen at 7:00 PM, July 30 at the Vinegar Hill Theater.