As a student at Jefferson High School in the 1970s, Gene Hughes dreamed of becoming a movie director. This month, with a little help from friends in Portland, Hughes finally is shooting his first feature film, "Feet."
"It took me 30 years to achieve my dream," Hughes told The Skanner. "I'm adapting for screen a two-person play I directed on stage, because I like what it has to say so much."
Written for stage by Pulitzer prize-winning playwright Aden Ross, "Feet" will depict the struggles of a young couple in the wake of the Vietnam War.
"It's about a veteran who returns home unwelcome, misunderstood and who has fathered a child during the war," Hughes said. "He's battling his personal demons about not having a father when he grew up. It's about family, about how war and politics put a strain on family and on society as a whole."
The film will have a lot to say to audiences today, Hughes added, because the Iraq war has many parallels with the Vietnam War. And because it shows the healing power of love within the family and the African American community
"We are in a similar situation now – an un-winnable war, a lot of social unrest and economic problems. We haven't learnt the lessons of Vietnam."
Hughes already has a strong reputation as a theater actor and director.
A graduate of the University of Washington in Seattle and the American Academy of Dramatic Art — West, in Los Angeles, Hughes has spent much of his career in Portland, acting and directing in productions such as: "The Miser of Mexico" and "Song of Liberty" for Miracle Theater Group and "Portraits in Black" and "Dutchman" at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center. He also appeared regularly in a television cops drama shot in Portland, "Under Suspicion."
After moving to New York in 1999, Hughes performed at the National Black Theater in Harlem. He also produced and directed a cable television show.
Currently, Hughes is a senior at New York University, specializing in film and video.
"This will be my thesis film, but it's going to be a lot more than just a grade for my senior thesis," Hughes said. "I hope it will be seen at a lot of film festivals.
The 35-minute short will be the first of many independent film projects, he said. "I'm on schedule to graduate in spring 2008, and when I do we'll have an independent film company in place."
Everyone involved in the film is donating time or money, Hughes said. However, he needs to raise about $8,000 to complete the project. Now he is looking for donations from individuals and companies here in Portland. And his former colleagues at The Miracle Theater Group have stepped up to the plate.
Jose Gonzalez, executive director of The Miracle Theater Group said former colleagues want Hughes' film to succeed.
"He did a lot of work with our company and he was a good artist, sincere and very dedicated, just a really good guy to have around," Gonzalez said. "He was just part of the family and that's why we were so willing to help him with this film project – we just want to help him out."
The Miracle Theater Group is accepting tax-deductible donations to help finance the film. Suggested amounts are $25 to $50 from individual donors and $50 to $100 from companies. So far, Hughes' family and friends have donated, with Phyllis Benton, owner of Midnight Ramble Video, one the first to contribute. All donors will receive a screen credit.
Hughes credits the television production track he took at Jefferson High School for his success. In fact he intends to make a documentary about the school, he said.
"One of my future projects will be a documentary about Jefferson High School, whether it is closed down or not," he said.
"It's not enough for me to do well in New York. I got my start in Portland and I'm very proud of that. And I'm very proud of Jefferson High. Jeff prepared me for New York."
To donate to "Feet" send a check or money order to The Miracle Theater Group, 425 S.E. 6th Ave., Portland, OR 97214; or call 503-236-7253