Published January 25th, 2023 at 3:49 PM
Names hold a person’s legacy and connect them to their past. Names are individualistic while also a representation of family units. Names are the first thing people own in the world, said Kansas City filmmakers Sharon Liese and Catherine Hoffman.
The duo came together to tell the complicated, yet joyous, story of the Parker family. “Parker” is a short film about three generations of a Black, Kansas City family who unify themselves by correcting a 40-year-long error — their last name.
“The film follows the two younger generations as they change their last name to Parker, their grandparent’s last name. It’s that final step to be unified as a family. We tell the story of how that mishap happened, while also exploring themes of legacy and the history of naming in the African American community,” explained Hoffman, who co-directed “Parker” alongside Liese.
“Parker” premiered in-person at the Sundance Film Festival on Jan. 19 and sold out of online passes. Sundance attendees who already have Online Explorer Pass will have access to screen the film until Sunday, Jan. 29.
“To be premiering at Sundance is so beyond where I dreamed I would be at 24,” Hoffman wrote on Twitter about her experience at the film festival. “I’m leaving inspired by the incredible storytellers I met and filled with joy to have seen our film subjects get so much love.”
Liese, who is an acclaimed director and producer based in Overland Park, had known the Parker family for nearly two decades before filming the documentary, she shared.
“Adolphus (Parker) has been my house painter for almost 20 years,” Liese noted. “I would talk to him, and he always just had such interesting stories. Over the years, I always said to him, ‘I’m going to do a documentary about you someday.’”
That day came when Adolphus shared with Liese’s husband, who works as an attorney, that he was interested in getting the family’s name changed. After hearing the full story, Liese knew she wanted to share his story and asked Hoffman to co-direct it with her.
“I love working with people younger than me because I always learn something from them,” Liese said. “Catherine is such a vibrant, emerging talent that I thought it would be great to work with her on this project.”
“I’ve been looking for a way to work with Sharon for a really long time,” Hoffman added. “I’ve looked up to her. She’s a big-time documentary filmmaker with major distribution in Kansas City, and that’s pretty rare. Everyone thinks you have to be out on the coasts, and I love that she tells local stories from her own community.”
The crew members behind “Parker” are all either Kansas City natives or based in the area, Liese said — noting the talented cinematographers and audio recordists with whom she has worked.
“People don’t realize that you can do whatever you want to do from wherever you want to live,” Liese said, explaining why she has chosen to build her career in the Midwest. “… My family is here, and there’s great talent here. There are also just a ton of untold stories, and I love having that right at my fingertips.”
Kansas City has an appetite for the arts, Hoffman noted.
“Kansas Citians love the arts of all kinds and are really excellent patrons and supporters of the arts,” she said. “I would love to see the film community here more widely recognized.”
Hoffman, who is an award-winning multimedia reporter for Kansas City PBS/Flatland, advised other young filmmakers to courageously go after their ambitions — even if they have to create their own path to get there.
“I feel like being a young leader — especially being a young woman, especially being a young woman of color — it’s not easy to command or earn respect,” Hoffman said. “I’ve had to work harder in a lot of spaces. … As a woman, there’s such a strong pull for me to want to be likable above anything else, but I would tell others: don’t be afraid to be particular. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want and to advocate for yourself.”
“Parker” gives viewers a theme that is sorely missing on screens — Black joy, the directors said.
Part of the film follows the family as they take a trip to the Black Archives of Mid-America to learn more about naming traditions for African Americans. Although “Parker” confronts some of the complicated themes of naming in the African American community, the Parker family navigates it all with charm and joy that radiates off the screen, Hoffman said.
“I think with documentaries and films in general about Black folks and Black families, there tends to be so much strife and struggle — which is a very true part of the experience sometimes — but there’s also so much joy in being Black,” Hoffman said. “Seeing a family like the Parkers, who have so much love for each other, is really special and really needed right now.”
“The fact that we weren’t searching for the story, and it came about naturally proves that Black joy is here,” Liese added. “It’s not something that has to be manufactured.”
Channa Steinmetz is a reporter for Startland News, where this story first appeared. Startland News is a member of the KC Media Collective.