St. Charles Herald-Guide

Hahnville native directs Kunta Kinteh documentary

By Kyle Barnett - March 2, 2013

Notable Hahnville native Elvin Ross returned to southeast Louisiana this week to host a number of screenings of his documentary film "Kunta Kinteh Island: Coming Home Without Shackles."

Ross, who is now a California resident, is perhaps better known as the composer for Tyler Perry’s film, stage and screen projects.

He took on the task of directing his first film after initially signing on to do the film’s score.

"I was actually brought into this independent project as a composer and I gave them a different vision to shoot it, a different way to reach a younger generation," Ross said. "They asked me to be the director and at first I said ‘I don’t do that’…and then I caught myself and so here we are."

Ross’s film reveals the real life of Kunta Kinteh, the slave made popular by Alex Haley’s 1976 book Roots: The Saga of an American Family and the following mini-series in 1977 starring Lavarr Burton, through the storytelling of an African student who is a descendant of Kinteh’s.

Ross’s retelling of the story includes a dramatic monologue given by actor Ben Vereen.

The name of the movie refers to the renaming of an island that took place during the film’s production.

"They renamed the old British fortress James Island where Kunta Kinteh was held captive to Kunta Kinteh Island," Ross said.

Showings of the film in the New Orleans area took place at Loyola University, St. Augustine High School and at the Audubon Tea Room.

Ross said he was very happy with the reception the filmed received at St. Augustine.

"We screened it at St. Augustine to 640 African American boys. The thread of the film is ‘do you know who you are?’" he said. "The kids got it. They were asking questions directly relating with the film."

During the film’s shooting, which began in Dec. 2010, Ross said he traveled to Gambia on a number of occasions.

"I flew to Africa several times to interview the families, to get ‘B’ roll footage of the islands and just the whole African landscape at large," he said.

It was during his visits to the Gambian village of Kinteh’s heritage that Ross experienced the poverty firsthand that prompted him to begin the Alvin Ross Foundation. The foundation will raise funds for the Albreda Jeffereh Primary School.

"The local school has no running water and food is scarce," Ross said. "My foundation will provide books and supplies and laptops so they can have access to the internet."

Ross wants to start off by helping a small village with the hope that it will spread to nearby areas.

"If we can start with one village and teach that village to fish,we can help them feed their own village and they can help the next village and so on and so on. We can help empower one village at a time," he said.

As part of the effort, a portion of the film’s proceeds will go towards the foundation’s efforts.

In addition to the film, Ross is releasing a children’s book dealing with the same subject matter as well as a soundtrack.

To find out more about the film, visit www.kuntakintehislandmovie.com.

Hahnville native directs Kunta Kinteh documentary