“The Suspect” gets 5 nods: Tri County Area film nominated at national festival

Local writer/director Stuart Connelly, third from right, poses with Spike Lee, Robert Townsend and the other best director nominees at this year's ABFF in Miami. Photo provided by Film Life, Inc.

Locally shot and produced film “The Suspect” recently made a splash in Miami, and nearly brought home some awards to boot.

The movie, which wrapped up filming in September, had its world premiere on June 20 at the American Black Film Festival. It was one of about 25 films selected to show at the festival from as many as 1,000 submissions, and one of just four competing for awards.

It received five nominations in four categories at the ABFF: Best Narrative Feature, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Actor nominations for Mekhi Phifer and Sterling Brown.

“I think the biggest achievement was being selected for competition,” writer/director Stuart Connelly, who lives in West Nantmeal, said. “People always say it’s an honor just to be nominated, and now I can definitely see why that is the case. I definitely agree with that.”

The film is a psychological thriller that examines issues of race and greed while telling the story of two black men passing through a primarily white southern town who are accused of being involved in the town’s first ever bank robbery. But nothing – including the bank robbery – is what it seems.

The team wanted to do something that built on the genre and worked on both an intellectual and an entertaining level, Mary Jo Barthmaier, Connelly’s wife and the film’s producer, said.

“It reinforces that good stories and good storytelling is needed in the market,” she said. “It’s far-reaching. We didn’t want to do the same old walking and talking 20-something complaining.

“At the end of the day, it’s a thriller that is exciting and entertaining, and also makes you think,” she added.

One of the most rewarding parts of the festival for the husband and wife team was the “phenomenal” reception the film received. The film premiered to an audience of about 450.

“It’s always so satisfying to share your work with such a large audience, and to see them laughing at the right moments, gasping at the right moments and reacting so well to this story,” Barthmaier said.

And more of those moments are coming for the filmmakers. Connelly said of the festivals he sent the film to, he’s definitely in four more and three look promising, though he can’t say which ones because their lineups have not been officially announced yet.

The next step for the film is to get it released, Connelly said. He’s currently in talks with some distributors, including international companies. He’s also launched a Kickstarter campaign to get the film screened in New York and Los Angeles in front of major distributors. Those interested in donating to the campaign can find it at www.kickstarter.com/projects/modocspring/the-suspect-a-thriller.

One of the rewards of the Kickstarter campaign is an advance screening for friends and family in the Philadelphia area this summer. Connelly said he wanted to do something nice for all the people that made the film possible, including those in the Tri County Area who were so accommodating to his short timeframe and hectic schedule. He hopes it can be screened in the Kimmel Center in August.

Connelly had such a positive experience with “The Suspect,” he wants to continue to shoot films in the area. In the fall and spring, Connelly and Barthmaier are set to begin work on two new films with their production company, Modoc Spring.

For now, Connelly is still taking in the successes of “The Suspect” so far.

“There are a lot of really prestigious festivals this film could have premiered in,” he said, “but if I had my choice, I would’ve picked the American Black Film Festival because they saw the value in a film that speaks to the issue of race in America, not in a preachy way, but in a real way that starts a conversation.”