Sherry Harris didn’t expect to become a filmmaker. She has a degree from Purdue in mechanical engineering. But, she said she’s always enjoyed the arts and after watching too many young people making poor choices, decided she needed to help.
Harris founded Big Afro Productions, a nonprofit organization dedicated to filmmaking, in hopes of countering those poor choices, such as skipping school, disrespect for others — including their elders — and even worse choices that lead to death.
“I thought, ‘I have to do something,’” she said. “I’m not sure if it’s going work or not, but I thought maybe if I show them that they come from a rich history, maybe they’ll be encouraged to live in their greatness as opposed to going down the wrong path.”
Now, the Lawrence-based filmmaker has a screening of her first documentary, “I Am She: The Matriarch of America,” set for Sept. 28 at the Kan Kan Cinema and Brasserie in Indianapolis.
Harris wrote, directed and produced the film, which focuses on the stories of Black women. She said she was very lost when she started the process but decided to begin by simply writing down ideas.
“Once I wrote down those ideas, I thought maybe I can interview some people,” she said. “So, I thought about some people in my life that I thought would be a good fit for the documentary. I reached out to those people. Some of them said no, because they didn’t feel that they would be able to articulate what I was asking for. I just kept asking. and I found five women that I thought were good.”
Those women span the generations, offering different perspectives to viewers.
Harris said she came up with the interview questions and wrote an intro for the documentary. She also was inspired to write a poem.
“A poem came to me one night at 3 a.m.,” she said. “I got up out of bed. I wrote that poem down.”
The film’s editor used that poem as the intro, she said, and used the intro she wrote as part of the film’s narration. The film also includes archival footage and research.
The editing is the only part of “I Am She” that Harris didn’t do herself. She said she used her phone to record the interviews, and the only equipment she purchased for the venture was a stabilizer and a microphone.
The film was completed in April, she said, just a few months after Harris started Big Afro Productions. She said she attended small-business classes through the Black Expo Training Institute, which is where someone recommended she reach out to the Kan Kan.
“I Am She” premiered at the Kan Kan in August, and it sold out very quickly. That led to the second screening scheduled for Sept. 28.
Harris said the five women featured in her documentary include her former supervisor at the Martin Luther King Center, a couple of sorority sisters of Harris’ — one a former educator who is now in her 80s, and another who works in the media — a friend who works in diversity and inclusion in Cincinnati; and a former interim CEO of the Marion County Library.
While the film focuses on women’s stories, Harris said she plans to create more documentaries, and already has written down ideas for five additional films.
“I know that women are not the only ones who contributed, but this is just my first film,” she said. “I want (young people) to see that despite what you may have seen in your educational history, there are some Black women who contributed greatly to the making and the building of the United States and a lot of people don’t know who they are. I wanted them to see that so they wouldn’t have to walk around with their head held down, but to feel good about who they are, so they can believe that they can do great things because a lot of our younger population they don’t know where they come from so they don’t believe that they’re great or have greatness down inside of them.”
She’s working on another project for social media that compiles short clips of Black men providing encouraging messages to the younger generation.
Harris said she believes that if more young people felt pride in their history and community, it would have a positive effect on crime and other societal problems.
For more, visit bigafroproductions.org.
If You Go
“I Am She: The Matriarch of America” starts at 7:30 p.m. at Theater 2 at the Kan Kan Cinema and Brasserie. Doors open at 7 p.m.
According to the Kan Kan website, “‘I Am She’ seeks to educate, enlighten and provoke meaningful conversations about the attempted erasure of African American women’s contributions and the broader implications for society. It prompts viewers to reflect on the importance of recognizing and celebrating the accomplishments of all individuals, regardless of their race or gender.”
Tickets are available online at kankanindy.com/films-events.