Nursing a passion for movies
Bridget O. Davis reflects on a decade of her Pocono Mountains Film Festival and its growing audience
Bridget O. Davis grew up in Harlem in the Drew Hamilton Projects with her four sisters. Some of her close friends took to the streets — selling and using drugs and becoming stick-up kids.
Her mother, a counselor at a drug rehabilitation center, would often bring home recovering heroin addicts to show her daughters first hand the severely detrimental effects of narcotics abuse. Davis found refuge in writing and praying secretly in her bedroom closet. She also enjoyed playing hopscotch and jumping Double Dutch.
At the age of 13, Davis tried her hand at writing and won an essay contest that afforded her the opportunity to attend a writing camp in Russia. This trip would change her life forever.
Upon returning home, her love for writing grew exponentially. Now exposed to a life outside of Harlem, Davis had something else to aspire to besides what she witnessed on the streets from her bedroom window.
After losing her mother to cancer at the age of 20, Davis vowed to reach the pinnacle of success. Feeling helpless about being unable to save her mother’s life, Davis went to college and became a registered nurse specializing in emergency-room, I.C.U. and operating-room care.
Davis also founded the Pocono Mountains Film Festival (PMFF). Now in its 11th year, the PMFF has been graced with the presence of such Hollywood legends as Billy Dee Williams, Jack Palance, Joyce Anne Dewitt, Edie Adams, Robert Townsend, Joe Jackson, Cliff Robertson, Robert Vaughn and Fred Williamson.
“My calling is to prepare a place for the creative to use their gifts of writing, acting, speaking and directing, and to engage in the higher process of healing at all levels of life’s deficiencies,” Davis says. “And to bring hope to those in despair.”
Congrats on your hosting the Pocono Mountains Film Festival for its 11th year. How did a sister from Harlem end up in the Pocono Mountains?
After witnessing all of the lives lost while growing up in Harlem to drugs and street violence, I was determined to make a positive difference in my community. After having two children with two men who did not share my same family values, I went to college and studied science with the goal of becoming a registered nurse. As an R.N., I would become financially independent. I would not have to depend on any man to decide the outcome of our lives.
How were you able to make it out of Harlem when so many of your friends weren’t?
In life, either you get it or you don’t. You cannot allow anyone else to tell you what direction you should go. My take on life is that your life should be determined by your own choices. If you fail, it will reflect your lack of hard work.
Where did you, a registered nurse, get the idea of starting your own film festival?
I wanted to see my second novel, Henry’s Heart, turned into a screenplay and independent film here in the Poconos. There was no place in the Poconos that had a venue to screen indie films. The Poconos being a beautiful place, a film festival was missing.
What were the biggest obstacles in getting it launched?
Being an African American female in a predominantly white community, I received no financial support from the arts society or state reps. As I brought Academy Award winners to the Poconos the challenge became greater. I had to work double shifts in the emergency room to pay for the event. The shift of negativity in this environment came when the folks here saw that I was fair to all independent filmmakers.
What was the initial reception of the Pocono community to the festival?
Negative, due to the fact that other people had tried to develop a film festival and they were not successful. Also, I made it clear that everyone would have an opportunity to showcase their work and win honestly regardless of color, political agenda or socioeconomic status. Blacks, Christians, Muslims and Jews had the same opportunity to compete in the Indie Film category and win.
How many attendees did you have that first year? How many last year?
The first year we had over 300 attendees and last year we had over 2,000.
Why should people come to the Poconos for a film festival? What else is there for them to enjoy besides the movies?
People should come to the PMFF to support filmmakers who are creative and would otherwise not have an opportunity to showcase their work to the professionals that we have partaking in this forum.
Besides the movies, the PMFF has great networking opportunities for people trying to break into the film industry. We have high-profile celebrities in attendance to spearhead workshops. We have an annual honorary awards ceremony in which we honor filmmakers for Best Full Feature, Best Documentary, Best Screenplay, Best Film Short, Best Reality Show and Best Christian Film. We have film critics to interview the independent filmmakers and we have distributors present to shop.
Does the festival have certain films it is looking for?
We look for films that motivate, educate and provide a deep sense of healing. We also feel that creativity is infinite and we are open to all ideas that could stimulate the human mind and assist with the conception of greater ideas and exchange.
The festival has honored such icons as Billy Dee Williams, Roberta Flack, Robert Vaughn and Oscar-winner Cliff Robertson. Who is this year’s winner of the Lifetime Achievement Award?
We have a couple of people in mind that we are still reaching out to.
Parenting, nursing, writing, filmmaking, running a film festival, et cetera. Why do you try to juggle so many things?
When my time comes to leave this Earth, I don’t want to have any regrets. I can say I did it, everything that I wanted to do. I accomplished my dreams. I want my epitaph to read “Job well done!”
How would you describe yourself?
I would describe myself as strong, sensitive, ethical, driven — and as not a person to be handled.
Is there any question no one ever asks you that you wish someone would?
Why do you stay so busy helping other people fulfill their dreams? My answer: I realized that I never lived until I was able to help someone who could not repay me. The feeling is wonderful!
When was the last time you had a good laugh?
The last time that I had a good laugh was when I got dressed in the dark and arrived in the E.R. with two different color shoes on.
What was the last book you read?
Living and Dying in Brick City by Dr. Sampson Davis.
What was the last song you listened to?
“The Impossible Dream” by Luther Vandross.
What excites you?
When a patient comes into the E.R. and they are experiencing a life-threatening illness, [and] I save them and visit them the next day sitting up in bed smiling. Also, when I speak at women’s prisons and I begin by telling them that it is only for the grace of God that I am not sitting where they are sitting. I share my personal experiences with them and share how I was able to rise above the immediate predicament and became successful through setting boundaries that I would not go outside of.
Also, at the honorary awards dinner we will call the winners up to receive their award, and to see the expression of happiness on their faces is worth all of the hard work.
What was your best career decision?
I have two best career decisions. The first one was becoming an E.R. nurse. This decision allowed me to bankroll my other career decision to create the Pocono Mountains Film Festival.
When you look in the mirror, what do you see?
I see a person that could change the course of many lives for the better if I had the financial means. I see the eyes of a person who loves life as long as she is able to assist with helping someone else survive. I see a caretaker of everyone regardless of race or economic status. I see a grown woman with the spirit and innocence of a little girl. I see success!
If you could have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
My one wish would be to destroy the prison-industrial complex. Corporations should invest in education and colleges, not slavery. That way, little boys and girls would have their daddies at home with them where they should be to help with child rearing.
If you only had 24 hours to live, how would you spend the time?
I would spend my last 24 hours telling everyone not to waste time on issues that they cannot change. Don’t look back at yesterday’s mistakes. Instead, focus on making tomorrow better.
What key quality do you believe all successful people share?
Hard work and sacrifice, without caring what others think of their endeavors.
What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow in your footsteps?
Remain humble at all costs and focus on your agenda. Take responsibility for your projects, work hard for what you believe in and never take anything for granted.
How do you want to be remembered?
As a person that gave it her all, who never gave up, who loved people and cared for those who couldn’t care for themselves. And as a person who enjoyed making people happy and bringing out the best in everyone. I want to be remembered as a person who accomplished all of her dreams.
The Pocono Mountains Film Festival begins Oct. 18 with a meet and greet with all honorees and filmmakers. The festival will accept submissions of films and screenplays at www.poconomountainsfilmfestival.com until Oct. 10. This year’s winners will receive monetary gifts.