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Alumnus Returns to Share Experiences as a Filmmaker

Kevin Coleman-Cohen, right, stands with Terrance Clark.  For someone who once couldn’t wait to get out of the St. Louis area, it might be surprising that filmmaker Kevin Coleman-Cohen chose to have his current short film take place in St. Louis.

He got the inspiration for “Pretty Boy” while working for a nonprofit that supported homeless teens in the metro area. And he gained the love of learning and the belief in his own capacity as a student at St. Louis Community College. 

Now, he’s coming back to share his movie and his passion for the College with a screening of “Pretty Boy” on April 7 at noon in the Mildred E. Bastian Center for the Performing Arts at STLCC-Forest Park. The event is sponsored by the Honors Program, Communications department and Phi Theta Kappa. 

He said it's important for him to return to his alma mater and his one-time employer because he values the work the College does for the community in which it’s located. Over the years, Coleman-Cohen has taught classes at Pepperdine University, Santa Monica College, University of Missouri-Kansas City and is currently teaching a Spike Lee Class for Columbia College Hollywood. 

He said he has a clear favorite stop as an educator.

“The best teaching job I had was at STLCC-Forest Park,” said Coleman-Cohen, who earned his associate’s degree from STLCC in 1998 and returned as an adjunct instructor nearly a decade later. “Those students, who I loved, came from the same neighborhood that I hung out in. Many of them are black, urban, from north city or south city; they’re not coming from Ladue or Clayton.” 

For Coleman-Cohen, it was inspiring to learn from instructors who looked like him.

“That’s not to say that an Asian professor or a Caucasian professor or another ethnicity couldn’t teach me – one of my favorite people in the world is Kathy Dunlop and she’s a white woman – but there was value in having a Black man stand in front of the classroom.”

Dunlop, a longtime chair of the communications department at Forest Park, has counseled and cheered on Coleman-Cohen since he was a student.

Following his time at STLCC, Coleman-Cohen matriculated to Howard University where he earned a degree in filmmaking. He then got accepted to the prestigious American Film Institute (AFI) in Los Angeles, graduating the two-year school in 2005 as the only Black student in the directing program.

Sandra Osburn, Ed.D., the current chair for Forest Park’s communications department, echoed Coleman-Cohen’s belief that it’s important for students to see someone who looks like them. Plus, Osburn pointed out, someone who has experienced more.

“It’s huge,” Osburn said. “It helps the students see beyond the confines of St. Louis. It expands their view a little bit more, to know of the opportunities outside of St. Louis because that will expand their worldview, expand their creativity and expand their network. But they can also come back and contribute to the community.”

Coleman-Cohen almost immediately returned to St. Louis after graduating from AFI. His mother died of cancer and he needed to care for his youngest brother, Demarko Hinkle, who was 15 at the time. Two years later, he became an adjunct professor at the College, serving the school for three years, before accepting a two-year position at UMKC.

It was while living in St. Louis during this period that he met the inspiration for Elon, the lead character in “Pretty Boy.” He was on the streets caring for homeless teens when he saw a young Black teen, who looked to Coleman-Cohen more like a kid who would take a swing at you for looking at him wrong than what he was doing, performing a sexual act with a man for money. 

Coleman-Cohen tried to get the teen into some help, but he would only accept food and condoms the three times the two saw each other. Coleman-Cohen never saw him again. 

“I’ve never forgot him,” he said. “He actually haunts me. I helped a lot of kids, but this particular kid reminded me of my baby brother. My baby brother was a boxer, athlete and all of those things that I saw when I was growing up.”

“Pretty Boy” has made the circuit of some of the most important film festivals, earning strong reviews along the way. It was selected for the Black Festival of New Orleans, Kansas City FilmFest International, Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival and more. Among his awards, Coleman-Cohen most recently won the Best Heartland Narrative Short at the Kansas City event and the Audience Choice award at the Riverside Short Film Festival in New Haven, Mo.

The movie, a fictionalized account of the teen, is just under 18 minutes long and Coleman-Cohen has been using the exposure he’s received at the festivals to try to find funding to make it into a full-length feature. 

He said it hasn’t been a particularly easy process and disappointing at times, but he wants to bring that experience to the students. That’s exactly why Osburn is excited for the Forest Park community to hear Coleman-Cohen speak. 

“It’s important for students to see their potential,” she said. “To have former students like him come back and share their stories helps them see the potential in themselves."

Coleman-Cohen said if he could, he’d do much more than return for a talk. He said he wasn’t academically ready for a four-year school but found a holistic approach at STLCC, where everyone seemed invested in seeing students succeed, to be exactly what he needed to excel. 

“I needed that circle of support,” he said. “I didn’t get lost at Forest Park. I had everyone. The love I got at that place… if I had a million dollars, I’d donate to that place. That place is amazing.”

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