From the February 2020 Desktop News | UA theatre professor Seth Panitch’s feature-length film, Service to Man, will be featured in STARZ’s programming for Black History Month in February.
The film follows white and black medical students communicating and working together during a time of great duress in the country, including the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Panitch said the film is based loosely on his father’s experiences as one of the first white students at Meharry Medical College in Nashville, Tennessee, in 1968.
In 2016, Service to Man won best film at the American Black Film Festival. The film was one of 25 selected to be showcased at the festival, and was the only university-sponsored and supported film in the entire competition. The film also won best picture at the International Black Film Festival, the DC International Film festival, and the North Carolina Film Festival, as well as audience choice awards at the Sidewalk, Tallgrass International, and Washington DC Independent Film Festivals. It is currently being distributed by Freestyle Entertainment Pictures.
“With all the difficulties people of different races dealt with back then, they somehow found a way to communicate that has been, perhaps, forgotten in many circles today,” he said.
Panitch started working on the film as part of a larger initiative he began in 2006 called the Bridge Project. The Bridge Project helps UA theatre students bridge the gap between being a theatre student and a working theatre professional. It places them in professional productions alongside established actors in reputable theaters.
Working with professional actors such as Keith David, who was in Platoon, and Lamman Rucker, who was in Why Did I Get Married?, approximately 30 UA students played a part in Service in Man through the Bridge Project.
It took Panitch five years to research and write the script for the movie. He completed it in 2013. From there, he partnered with Aaron Greer, a former associate professor of telecommunications and film at UA, and started pre-production with a camera crew culled together from markets across the country.
Andy Fitch, an associate professor of scene design at UA, created all the sets in the movie, and Tom Wolfe, a professor in UA’s School of Music, composed all of the music. Dominic Yeager, assistant professor of theatre, served as business manager for the massive undertaking.
Panitch is now in pre-production for his next film, an adaption of his last off-Broadway play, Separate and Equal. The film will shoot in West Alabama this summer.