by The People’s Minister of Information JR
“The Forever Tree,” a fictional short screening at the SF Black Film Festival this year, is set in Harlem in the year 1919 and utilizes history and magical realism to tell its story. In the film, the main character interacts with Madame CJ Walker, Garvey is talked about, and the Book of Enoch is talked about as well as the Dogon star.
I wanted to sit down with the co-writer and producer of “The Forever Tree,” Stephen Hintz, so that he could give us a little background into what went into this film.
M.O.I. JR: Is there any truth to the script of “The Forever Tree” or is it totally fiction? Did Marcus Garvey and Madame CJ Walker work together?
Stephen Hintz: “The Forever Tree” is fiction, though we used historical reality as a backdrop for the adventure. The legend also incorporates bits of ancient oral legend (Dogon star) and biblical references (Book of Enoch in the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Bible). The heart of the story, a tree that is followed by a nomadic group of ancient people who live forever, is made up.
Marcus Garvey and Madame CJ Walker were very close actually. She funded many of his activities revolving around the fight against European colonization, Black empowerment and liberation.
M.O.I. JR: Can you tell us a little bit about the mythological story of “The Forever Tree”?
Stephen Hintz: The story goes that a legend that has been alluded to in every ancient medicinal book throughout time – from China, India, Iran, North America and out of oral traditions – talks about the first people to inhabit the earth, who came from the stars and landed in Africa and who follow this tree that moves along a massive root system according to the home star’s location. They eat from its leaves and the concoction is said to make people live forever.
They are an elusive group and many who tried to find them have failed. When a member of the group leaves, they are given a necklace made from the tree that acts as a homing device so they can find their way back. In our story, part of the necklace has been found in an old plantation. The other piece of the tree, a nut that fits in the middle, is said to be located in Kingston, Jamaica. When the two pieces are joined, they lead to the tree.
M.O.I. JR: Why is the film only a short?
Stephen Hintz: It was difficult to find people interested in doing a seemingly larger budget, full length feature, period piece with a Black female lead in a magical realism adventure story. No one wanted to give it a read. We were told that it was too difficult a sell to recoup the budget. We shot the short to give a glimpse of the world we wanted to share, in hopes of garnering interest in our already prepared feature script.
M.O.I. JR: Why did the film end so abruptly? It ends on the main character smiling; was she happy to be completing her father’s work? Or was she happy to have gotten a little aggression out on her boss?
Stephen Hintz: In the short film, she is happy to be on her path. She has been acknowledged for her work and is looking forward to living in her purpose. It ended abruptly because we wanted to leave the viewer wanting to see more … the feature!
M.O.I. JR: Did you intentionally make the relationship in the film between most Blacks and whites in Harlem in 1919 comparable to slavery?
Stephen Hintz: The relationship between Agnes and Tawny was one that we had many discussions about. Oftentimes throughout history, Black invention has been co-opted by white inventors because the infrastructure of the world, under white supremacy, allowed for that course of action. We wanted to show how, though slavery was ended, relationships of unequal power were still regularly enforced.
M.O.I. JR: What do you want people to get out of this film?
Stephen Hintz: We want people to take the risk and not “play small” in the world. Go and live your best life. Step into the unknown, especially when your gifts are not being honored.
M.O.I. JR: Are there any other film projects that you are working on?
Stephen Hintz: Each of us involved in the film have multiple projects that we are in various stages of development on. We are all mainly working on feature length projects and really working hard to see “The Forever Tree” full length version come to fruition.
M.O.I. JR: Why did you enter this film into the SF Black Film Festival?
Stephen Hintz: We entered it into the SF Black Film Festival because it is a showcase for groundbreaking work and we felt that it would represent our highest intentions. We were really honored to be selected.