One of the most beautifully told stories and exceptionally written scripts in the 2017 San Francisco Film Festival presents itself as a current-day Black love story, a drama called “Boston2Philly.” It’s about a young man who’s devastated by his past and starts his life over in a new city trying to recover from what life has dealt him.
The story line is authentic and unique and it felt like a breath of fresh air to be able to not telegraph what the many characters were going to say or do. I talked to filmmaker Ralph Celestin about his cinematic history as well as some of the interesting details surrounding the script and making of his brilliant film and official San Francisco Black Film Festival connection, “Boston2Philly.”
M.O.I. JR: How long have you been a filmmaker? How did you get interested in the art form?
Ralph Celestin: I consider myself more of an artist than a filmmaker before anything else, and I’ve been an artist since as long as I can remember. Whether it was writing poetry as a young scholar in middle school or writing short stories and eventually scripts in college, I’ve always seemed to find myself utilizing and creating a platform to be heard and give my story.
That is my main interest in the art form of indie filmmaking I appreciate the most – being able to give a narrative and have a voice controlled entirely by myself. I can stretch my imagination as far as I please and have the world sit back and watch with some popcorn and a cup of soda.
M.O.I. JR: What inspired the writing of your film “Boston2Philly”?
Ralph Celestin: Philadelphia is what inspired me to write the film. The city of brotherly love that took in a Boston city slick who had never set eyes on the rocky statue or bit down on a proper Philly cheese-steak. I felt compelled due to the stage of my life to write a story that would encompass all the emotions I was feeling moving to a new city with no friends or family within a 100 miles and falling in love with it, despite the mountain of “what ifs” I was facing.
M.O.I. JR: The script is written exceptionally well, the dialogue is alive, real and poetic. Which writers inspire you?
Ralph Celestin: I find my inspiration not from my peers or those who have come before me but from speaking to dynamic individuals I come across every day. My writing is a reflection both on how I speak but how people speak to me – what stories my friends give and perspectives my colleagues have on the world.
M.O.I. JR: What is the overall message, without giving the plot away, that you want people to get from this film?
Ralph Celestin: My message would be that regardless of the hardships you may have faced in your past, there is hope and an opportunity to start a new life, make a new connection and find the strength to let go.
M.O.I. JR: Why are all of the main characters complex and multi-layered, except the Asian woman who was a part of Boston’s student group? She has a recurring role, but we know nothing about her. Was that intentional?
Ralph Celestin: I wanted to have a character who just brought an element of natural positivity and light to an otherwise fairly dark film. However, in the scenes that Rye-Rye is a part of we learn a lot about her through the dialogue.
In fact, she is the only character in the film who actually verbalizes a lot of the struggles she had to face prior to entering college. I think having that dynamic of a character who isn’t afraid to open up as opposed to the other characters, who keep their stories to themselves and are very guarded, is important, because it shows you a different type of personality of the group. And it also gives the audience a character they may be able to relate to if Philly, Boston, G or Ant are a bit too different of a narrative than what they are used to.
M.O.I. JR: How does it feel to have your film selected to be in the 2017 San Francisco Black Film Festival?
Ralph Celestin: It feels incredible to have made it into a festival as well received and noteworthy as the San Francisco Black Film Festival! I am eager to experience the festival and learn from the workshops and enrich myself in SAN FRAN!
M.O.I. JR: What other films have you made or are you working on?
Ralph Celestin: I am currently working on my second feature film, called “S.E.L.L.A’s Kitchen,” which is about a young food prodigy who is also a hip hop junkie. It also has a very personal connection to me since it’s a Haitian American film with a lot of themes tied to the culture of Haiti.