a Loyola U professor and
post-produced in Chicago,
the film is inspired by
the true story of a
white Jewish student
in a HBCU medical college
Service to Man, a narrative film co-directed and produced by Chicago’s Aaron Greer and Alabama’s Seth Panitch, is set to have a broadcast debut and be available through Starz’ streaming service on September 7, 2018. The film’s setting takes place in 1967 at Meharry Medical College – one of the prestigious Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) in Tennessee.
The plot is inspired by a true story and focuses on medical student and Brooklyn native Eli Rosenberg’s experience as one of only two white Jewish students to attend Meharry.
Greer, who is also an Associate Professor and the former Film and Digital Media Program Director at Loyola University Chicago, says it “feels great” to learn that Service to Man will be available on Starz. However, he “didn’t know the specifics until (he) got a Google Alert.”
“In the middle of the summer,” comments Greer, Service to Man’s distribution company Freestyle Digital Media informed him that there may be “a sale to Starz.” However, he only officially found out about the broadcast debut and the final sale when it popped up in Paste Magazine.
Greer says this lack of communication is not “atypical” behavior for distribution companies. He continues, “when a distribution company acquires your film, they really only have to send you reports every once in a while. These are almost like courtesy things, except for when they owe you money at the end of the year.”
Principal photography for Service to Man took place in 2015 at Stillman College (another HBCU) and the surrounding Tuscaloosa and Birmingham, Alabama areas.
“SERVICE TO MAN” OFFICIAL TRAILER
Post-production occurred entirely in Chicago. Former-Chicago based professor and filmmaker Scott K. Foley edited Service to Man. Zack Schmidt and the Chicago Recording Company (CRC) mixed its sound, and Chicago’s Paul Galati of Optimus colored the film (Galati was with C3 at the time).
As for the script, playwright and theater director Panitch wrote it based off of his father’s own experiences as a white Jewish student at Meharry Medical College in the 1960s.
In the film, the fictional Eli attends the HBCU because it was the only medical school to accept his application. Eventually, Eli’s rivalry with fellow-student Michael DuBois, Eli’s lack of direction in his career, and his ignorance towards the pervasiveness of racism all lead up to a boiling point that comments on the healthcare industry and integration alike.
Greer explains that the co-directors “both connected to the material in personal ways, but different ones.”
Ultimately, Greer states that Service to Man is a “traditional fish out of water and coming of age story.” While the film centers on this archetypal narrative, it is rooted heavily in both directors’ lives.
Greer states, “For Seth (Panitch), the whole thing connects to his personal experience because it was directly inspired by his father’s story. Seth was in fact born in Nashville. His best friends growing up were the children of these doctors that his dad went to school with.”
He continues, “For me, I’m biracial, and I always feel a little bit like a fish out of water. I mean, in the sense that I can relate to that experience on either side. I have family that went to HBCUs, so I have a different kind of personal experience. Obviously, (Seth) has family members that went to HBCUs, because his dad did, but you know, I have a different kind of experience with what that is like.”
Greer wanted to break free from the 1960s period pieces that represent Black culture in a monolithic way. Service to Man emphasizes the diversity of the Black experience by focusing on “Black medical students and (members of) the Black educated class” who attended and taught at a HBCU that was established in 1876.
THE MAKING OF “SERVICE TO MAN”
The film’s broadcast debut on Starz is one of many achievements. Service to Man has received a host of awards, including the Grand Jury Prize for Best Narrative Feature at the 2016 American Black Film Festival, Best Ensemble Cast at the 2017 Windy City Film Festival, and Best of Festival at the 2017 D.C. Independent Film Festival.
Service to Man became available on Amazon and iTunes in February 2018, but Greer gleefully admits that the recent news of the Starz release “is exciting.”
Greer adds, “That stuff kind of comes in waves. The first wave is obviously getting the film done.”
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Contact Joey Filer at Joey@reelchicago.com or follow him on Twitter @FilerJoey.