jour·ney·man/ˈjərnēmən/ – A worker or sports player who is reliable but not outstanding
Young men who grow up with aspirations of playing a professional sport are often advised to have something to fall back on–a “Plan B,” because the likelihood of making it as a pro is often a long shot. Like those young men before and after him, athlete-turned filmmaker Matthew Cherry grew up with those same dreams but was able to make his a reality; and when the time came, he put his “Plan B” into action. As an undrafted free agent from the University of Akron, Cherry was faced with long odds in making an NFL team, but his work ethic and ability landed him on the practice squad of the Jacksonville Jaguars. He played one game for the Jaguars and then began an NFL odyssey not glamorized on ESPN or recognized in the eyes of young men growing up; he bounced around between teams, countries and continents, before finally deciding to walk away from the game after a run with the Baltimore Ravens at age 24.
The time to explore his options and establish a second professional career came much earlier than anticipated, but he approached it with the same discipline and drive as he did athletics. With his playing days behind him, Cherry set up shop in Los Angeles, working as a production assistant on the set of various television shows and absorbing the mechanics of directing. He began to translate the techniques he learned into the music video world, as he went behind the camera for the likes of Terry Dexter, Bilal, Common, Jasmine Sullivan and Kindred the Family Soul. The transition was seamless and allowed him to create the visuals for the type of music he loved, making it a marriage between the art forms.
jour·ney noun \ˈjər-nē\ – something suggesting travel or passage from one place to another
The city of Chicago breeds a hustle and resilience in its native sons, and Matthew A. Cherry is a prime example of those combined forces. When the NFL locked its players out in the summer of 2011, he grabbed his camera and set out to do a documentary on how the fans were reacting to the struggle between the owners and the players. To his surprise, he found that many fans placed the blame squarely on the players’ greed and were unaware of the issues “the other 96%” of the players dealt with. He learned the perception was that multi-million dollar athletes were trying to hold the owners hostage in an attempt to earn more money; he knew that a large percentage of the NFL were not raking in the big bucks and many were a conversation with a head coach away from having their whole lives turned upside down. He decided to tell a story, his story.
Cherry’s new film The Last Fall is semi-autobiographical because he has taken elements from his life and dramatized them for the effect of the story. However, this is not just the story of Matt Cherry, but that of thousands of other athletes that have reached a crossroads in their professional careers–many with no direction and no one to assist in the transition. Lance Gross (Tyler Perry’s House of Payne) plays Kyle Bishop, a former NFL player who now faces the reality of being out of the game and out of money, so he returns to his mother’s home to restart his life. The film chronicles the hardships and decisions he must make to get his life back on track and a rekindled relationship with high school sweetheart Faith, masterfully played by Nicole Beharie. The beauty of The Last Fall is the culture of community that’s gone into to making the film; the star Gross doubles as executive producer, along with Cherry, Ellis and Monique Hobbs, plus a team of colleagues, friends and believers who came aboard as producers. With the critical acclaim of Ava DuVernay’s Middle of Nowhere, the Black Indie film movement is pushing to the forefront. The Last Fall is the ultimate in independent filmmaking, as Cherry and manager Monica Young are learning hands-on while steering his first release to the general public.
The parents that instilled and inspired the will to dream in Matthew A. Cherry both passed away during the making of The Last Fall; his mother suddenly passed just as he embarked on the process and changed the entire direction of the film and an unexpected life insurance payout helped to finance the film. Prior to the final screening at this year’s SXSW festival, he received a phone call that his father had passed away after a long bout with illness. The film bares a dedication to their memory, but their lasting impact is on the product of their union, the man brave enough to share his story and the story of those forgotten by fans and critics. They will be proud to know their son’s journey from Point A to Point B is right on track.
The Last Fall, starring Lance Gross, Nicole Beharie, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Darren Dewitt Henson, Harry Lennix and Keith David, opens in limited release this weekend at Los Angeles’ The Rave Cinemas. Check the official Facebook page (Facebook.com/lastfallmovie) for more details and follow on Twitter (@lastfallmovie) for updates on additional openings and the DVD release on January 15th.
Between rhetoric and reality is where you’ll find Al-Lateef Farmer: Black man, husband, social documentarian, and slinger of Soul by the pound. His brand of social commentary rooted in independent thought can be found at http://worldaccording2teef.com, and on Twitter @wrldacrdng2teef.