NATCHITOCHES – Northwestern State alumnus James Harlon Palmer won the 2019 Louisiana Film Prize this past weekend in Shreveport. Palmer, who lives in Mansfield, won $50,000 for his film “Anniversary.” He wrote, produced and co-starred in the film. NSU alumni John Chambers was director of photography and Courtney Shay Young was choreographer and appeared in the film.
“Anniversary” is a musical about a couple who is celebrating one year of happily dating. Although both are in love, the sweethearts face a dilemma when Jimmy feels pressured by Ellie (played by Kelly R. Vaden) to pop the question. A stand-off occurs as they take turns presenting their cases for freedom vs. nuptials in a comedic, yet heartfelt lyrical battle. The musical incorporated various delivery styles, including R&B, love ballads and rap.
“It was a thrilling experience. The buzz was building early on and kept growing throughout the weekend, and while that was exciting, and it seemed the odds of placing were pretty good, I was very careful not to get my hopes up,” said Palmer, a 2005 graduate in theatre. “This business comes with a lot of disappointment and rejection, so the shields were up. When they announced that I won, I couldn’t believe it. It was a surreal, almost out of body experience.”
“Anniversary” is Palmer’s directorial debut. He has more than 20 film and television credits in both short and full-length feature films. Palmer has composed music for and acted in numerous films that finished in the Louisiana Film Prize’s Top 20. He was also involved other competing films this year. Palmer said winning the prize taught him an important personal lesson.
“Winning has taught me to listen to all the friends and family who tell me of my talent and who support me,” he said. “They believed in me when I did not believe in myself. I know what I can do, but without their support and their positivity, there is a great chance that I would have just talked myself out of making a film at all.”
The Prize Foundation received submissions of short films from across the country and internationally. A curated film committee selected 20 to represent the Top 20 finalists. The grand prize and outcomes were based on the 50-50 judges and audience votes. The judges consisted of national film industry professionals from across the U.S. Palmer hopes the exposure will provide additional opportunities.
“The exposure and the networking that comes from winning the film prize has the potential to lead to some really great things,” said Palmer. As an actor, things tend to be feast or famine.”
Palmer has some very practical uses for the prize money. He can replace his desktop computer used to write scripts and mix music and an 8-track recorder for recording vocals which both died while he was writing the film.
According to Palmer, he has used some of the things he learned at NSU on a regular basis.
“My connection to NSU has never been broken,” he said. Whether it’s simple acting warmups before going on stage in a play, or digging deep into the works of Shakespeare or the in-depth study of the different approaches to acting and finding what technique, or combination of techniques, fits my nature, the things I learned in the NSU Theatre program stay with me to this day.”
Palmer auditions for films regularly. He has a role in the upcoming film “Walkaway Joe” starring Jeffrey Dean Morgan and David Strathairn and in Julia Edward’s play “Family Planning” in January at Shreveport Little Theatre. He hopes to start work on a music album this year and begin his next musical short film. Palmer is also working with Young on a version of a show, “Big Willie Style” for Young’s middle school theatre students.
Palmer developed Big Willie Style, a show that mixed Hip Hop with Shakespeare while at Northwestern State. It started as a Shakespeare class final that spawned three sequels, “Big Willie Style 2 & 3” at NSU, and then five years later “Big Willie Style: Port City Edition” premiered at Marjorie Lyons Playhouse in Shreveport.
Information on the Louisiana Film Prize is available at prizefest.org.
James Harlon Palmer, left, and Kelly R. Vaden in a scene from “Anniversary,” the winner of the 2019 Louisiana Film Prize. Palmer, who lives in Mansfield, won $50,000 for his film. He is a 2005 graduate of Northwestern State in theatre.