Christopher Brown first met film director Spike Lee in March 2005, when Lee gave a speech at the Mark Twain House & Museum in Hartford and Brown was attending Trinity College. Brown asked Lee for life advice. Lee told him "Make sure you keep good company."
Six years later, Brown was a grad student at NYU's Tisch School of the Arts, where Lee taught. Brown ran into Lee again and remarked "I'm here to keep the right company."
The two became friends and collaborators, Lee acting as a mentor to Brown. Brown has worked for Lee and for Nate Parker, who made "The Birth of a Nation." Brown is making his own films, too. On Saturday, Aug. 12, he will show a short film he wrote and directed at his alma mater.
"I needed to show a narrative that shows that one simple decision can have tragic consequences," says Brown, "even something as simple as jumping into the wrong car at the wrong time."
"Nani," a 12-minute short, tells the story of a teen girl growing up in Hartford's Jamaican immigrant community. When her boyfriend, Malachi, gets into trouble, Nani has to decide what to do about it.
Brown wanted to show tragedy, but he also wanted to show hope. "My mom always told me that she loved movies that made her feel good, where she left the theater with a smile," he says. "I want to inspire more than shock."
Brown shot the movie in the Blue Hills and Upper Albany neighborhoods and used local people, some non-actors, in some roles. Brown enjoyed shooting in the neighborhood, and the neighborhood enjoyed having him.
"The love for what I was doing was evident. People donated food, they fed us, they put us up, they opened their homes to us. They were excited to see something like this in this community. Even the gangsters were supportive," he says. "Everyone on the cast and crew was inspired. The New York crew was surprised to see the amount of love they received."
Brown, 36, grew up in Windsor and graduated from Prince Tech in Manchester. After Trinity, where he majored in English, he got a pre-MBA at Dartmouth, then an MFA at Tisch. Before getting work in the film industry, he worked as a youth development coordinator at Opportunity High School in Hartford.
His film-industry work includes production assistant on Lee's music documentary "Bad 25" and office-PA work on Lee's films "Old Boy" and "Da Sweet Blood of Jesus." After meeting Parker at the premiere of Lee's film "Red Hook Summer," Brown worked as a PA on "The Birth of a Nation," in which he also portrayed one of the rebellious slaves. Brown is working now on Parker's new project.
He lives in Los Angeles, but still has family in the Hartford area, including two daughters in Windsor.
Brown is now working on a script for a feature film, which he describes as a rags-to-riches story. "My heart and my goal is to uplift, to inspire, to educate through healthy images of people succeeding," he says.
He hopes one day to create a TV series set in Hartford: "The drama here is never-ending."
NANI will be shown on Saturday, Aug. 12, at 5 p.m. at Cinestudio, 300 Summit St., on the campus of Trinity College in Hartford. Brown and producer Bernard Zeiger will be present. Admission is a free-will donation. Tickets at the door and at eventbrite.com.