A chat with the writer of Yolonda Ross short film, Desmond’s Not here Anymore

(Yolonda Ross, S. Epatha Merkerson)

Desmond’s Not Here Anymore is a harrowing short film about a mother battling Dementia and a daughter carrying a trauma she ironically cannot forget. 

Penned by first-time screenwriter, Lindiwe Suttle Müller-Westernhagen, and directed by Mmabatho Montsho,  Desmond’s Not Here Anymore is a gothic family drama about the interplay between a devoted, resilient daughter, Abigail (The Chi’s Yolonda Ross), determined to stay strong for her mother, Selma (Chicago Med’s S. Epatha Merkerson), who is in the debilitating late stages of Alzheimer’s.

While starting to crack, Abigail still handles the strenuous task of packing up her family home alone. All the while, she tends to the around-the-clock nursing of her mother who unconsciously antagonizes her by obsessing over someone named Desmond. With “Where’s Desmond?” ringing in Abigail’s ears and the stress of it all, an old childhood wound is ripped open.

Abigail is finally forced to face her mother’s question. As the gash grows wider and deepens, we see the personal horrors each character is dealing with – dark family history, toxic sexuality, and the terrors of remembering and forgetting.

Desmond’s Not Here Anymore then deftly pivots and becomes a story of healing and the celebration of this unique, abiding mother-daughter bond.

The performances by Ross and Epatha Merkerson are heart-wrenching, raw and genuine as they dive into the depths of family trauma. The cinematography is both crisp and warm inviting the audience to a seat around the family dinner table to watch the story of the forgotten past of this mother and daughter unfold. Watch the trailer below:

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At the Oscar-qualifying Hollyshorts Film Festival, Reel Chicago caught up with the powerhouse writer of Desmond’s Not Here Anymore Lindiwe Suttle Müller-Westernhagen. The screenplay won HollyShorts’ Best Screenplay in 2019. Lindiwe was also voted Top 25 Screenwriters to Watch in 2020 by the International Screenwriters.

Congratulations on the short! The portrayal of mother and daughter is powerful and vivid. Can you talk about your inspiration?

As a screenwriter, my characters inspire me. My characters are mostly Black females. I love to explore family dynamics across different cultures, sisterhood, outcasts standing up against social norms, rebels showing their human spirit rise up time and time again, and any inspiring stories promoting the well-being, empowerment, and personal safety of women and girls.

Lindiwe Suttle Müller-Westernhagen

How long did it take from the writing of Desmond to get it to the screen?

I started writing Desmond’s Not Here Anymore in 2018 and could not finish. I wasn’t brave enough. In 2019, I DM’ed Michaela Coel, Coel surprisingly replied. I told her I was a new screenwriter and wanted to tell this story. She wrote me, ‘Bravery rules. When we are all brave, our species has no limits.’ So, I sat down and finished the first draft of Desmond’s Not Here Anymore that night.”

Someone spilled the tea that the production was quite fast?

A whirlwind! The team was truly a global film crew. The film was shot in 3 days in July 2021 during the pandemic. And the entire post-production process took place on international zooms and was shot in three days. The film was delivered just one day before the HollyShorts premiere.

Wow! Can you take us through your journey as a writer?

Journey is the right word. I was born in Milwaukee. Raised in a suburb outside of Atlanta. Then lived in Cape Town, South Africa and fell in love, got married and rediscovered my storytelling in Berlin Germany. My film career began as a stylist working with Beyoncé and Dr. Maya Angelou on Universal and Tyler Perry film sets. These experiences ignited a desire with him to tell stories. In 2016, I took my first screenwriting course and worked up the courage to tell this story which is so close to my heart.

It’s such a powerful film. What’s your ultimate goal for it?

I want to inspire conversations and eventually turn this short into a feature. I’m currently writing the feature version and for looking for production companies that believe in this story.

With a passion for telling female stories, specifically for women of color, and a goal is to empower girls and women, Lindiwe Suttle Müller-Westernhagen is a writer to watch. Both on and off the screen.

Megan Penn reports on the indie film market and anything that empowers women and underrepresented groups.