Big things can happen to people from small towns. Former Florida A&M student Akil DuPont, a film director from Tallahassee, is one of these people. DuPont has reached recent success from his short film produced at Florida State University, “Underground.”
“Underground” is a dark story told through song, DuPont said. It’s the story of Bali and his daughter, Emala, who are trying to escape the unbearable conditions of slavery using hidden instructions found in Negro spirituals to navigate the Underground Railroad.
“I went to FAMU from kindergarten until I graduated from college,” DuPont said. “Some of that history just started bubbling up and I thought Negro spirituals would be a great way to tell a story.”
The inspiration for the story came from two musicals: “Swing Time” starring Johnny Depp and “Ray” starring Jamie Foxx.
“That’s a very dark musical,” DuPont said to describe “Swing Time” and where the inspiration came from. “There’s no dancing, no happiness in that musical either; very raw and gritty. It’s a pretty bloody musical. So I was trying to find a place where I can do a dark and real musical.”
DuPont first became interested in directing films as a young student.
“I knew a teacher who taught at FAMU DRS when I was in middle school and he was a filmmaker on the side,” DuPont said. “He put the bug in me in the beginning to start making films.”
After graduating from FAMU with a degree in economics, DuPont entered the corporate world; a job he said helped him discover his true passion.
“It wasn’t really the place I was happy in,” said DuPont. “[My] teacher planted the seed and corporate America put the water.”
“Underground” has placed first at the Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, Best Short Film at the San Diego Black Film Festival, Best Short Film in the Texas Black Film Festival and Best of Brouhaha at the Orlando Florida Film Festival. His achievements qualifiy for the Florida Film Festival, which is an Academy Award – qualifying festival. He also won best student short at the Tallahassee Film Festival and first place at the Palm Beach International Film Festival.
Tomi Townsend, a singer and actress originally from Springfield, Tenn., played the leading female role in “Underground.”
“I only met him when starting to work on this project,” Townsend said. “From the moment I started working with him, I knew the project would be a success. He’s very focused, very dedicated, extremely talented and just has what it takes to make a great film. And before we even started shooting, I knew what it was going to be able to do.”
“Underground” was awarded two student Emmys: Best Use Of Music and the Bricker Humanitarian Award.
“It’s very cool,” DuPont said about his most recent achievement. “It’s a little film. I’m from Tallahassee and to just make a film in my hometown and for it to be recognized in one of the biggest awards in entertainment history, one of the biggest awards in the film industry…it’s a beautiful thing.”
If DuPont had the option of being in another field, he said he would choose to be a musician after his experience in the Marching 100 as a bass drummer. DuPont was also the chief executive officer for Faces Modeling Troupe.
Rey Louis, 21, a third-year English student from Miami, is a member of Faces and has known DuPont for over a year. To Louis, DuPont’s success was no surprise.
“I knew one day he would be very successful with his aspirations,” Louis said. “A positive attitude and a friendly persona will get you far and Akil has always demonstrated a great, friendly and outgoing attitude.”
Nathaniel Tanner, 20, a third-year criminal justice student from Tallahassee, arranged the vocals for “Underground.” For him, DuPont’s willingness to let him have creative freedom is what made it so easy to work with him.
“The experience was trying, but well worth it,” Tanner said. “I am not surprised at the success because when you have the blueprint of what you want and you have a team to execute it, then nothing but success can come.”
DuPont has simple advice for aspiring film makers.
“Study your craft,” DuPont said. “Know how to tell a good story.”