Nagin ’20 film lauded Documentary tracks mother’s life

On March 24, the largest documentary film festival in Massachusetts awarded Julius Nagin ’20 first place   in the Five-Minute Student Documentary Contest for “A Talk With Mom,” a film Julius said he created to show that there are many routes to success.

“People believe that most Harvard professors come from a wealthy family with some previous ties to a prestigious institution,” Julius said. “I made the movie because my mom’s story shows a different, lesser known path to becoming a Harvard professor.” 

Julius is the first student from the school to submit to the Salem Film Festival, having done so after Upper School Film and Video Teacher Bryan Sih introduced him to the opportunity and encouraged him to participate. The annual festival, which ran this year from March 22 to 29, draws documentarians from around the world, Mr. Sih said.

In the film, Julius’s mother, Tomiko Brown-Nagin, shares memories of waking up at 5:30 in the morning and showering with her “eyes practically closed” before trekking a half-mile down the dirt road on which she lived to reach the bus stop every morning.

“My dad lit a fire in me, and I wanted to go as far as I could possibly go,” Mrs. Brown-Nagin says in the video. “One of the reasons that I do what I do is because I want to give students the same level of motivation, encouragement to achieve all that they can achieve, to meet their goals, to know that it really doesn’t matter where you come from if you are willing to work hard and to cultivate your natural abilities.”

To accurately capture his mother’s story, Julius said that he worked on creating the film for two months during the fall and winter in Mr. Sih’s Film and Video class. He even went back to reshoot the interview with his mother so that he had the material needed to tell the story with the right emotional gravity, Mr. Sih said. 

“Julius spent ample time editing, trying to weave the interview and footage together to create something meditative but with an arc or progression,” Mr. Sih said. “He also was very focused on what music he could use to elevate the tone and tested many different songs before choosing the one in the film currently. He seemed to have a great sensitivity to how each element in the film works together to create an overall mood.”

“The mood I wanted to go for was not somber and sad, but more reflective and transforming,” Julius said. “My goal was to take the viewer to a different place, kind of transport them into the emotions my mom was feeling while talking about her journey.”

Asked his reaction to winning, Julius called himself “quite surprised.”

“I wasn’t sure how my film would compare to other student work around the world,” Julius said. “I felt a sense of accomplishment—my hard work over the last two months had paid off.”

Julius received a plaque and a $100 reward.

Mr. Sih recently announced that he will not be returning next year to teach.

“I’m obviously saddened to hear Mr. Sih is leaving after this year,” Julius said. “He really helped me push myself to make the highest quality content possible.”

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