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How a Fort Worth Native Found an Oscar Winner for His Debut Feature

Dunbar High School grad Iver Jallah wrote the script for the Southern Gothic thriller Grand Isle, which will debut this week at the Lone Star Film Festival.
By Todd Jorgenson |
Iver William Jallah

Growing up in Fort Worth, Iver William Jallah developed a passion for storytelling by immersing himself in classic literature and stage plays.

When that evolved into a love for screenwriting and filmmaking, Jallah had a vivid dream. Six months later, his recollections had transformed into the script for Grand Isle, a Southern Gothic thriller dripping with mystery and Cajun atmosphere.

The film, which stars Nicolas Cage and Kelsey Grammer, will debut on Friday at the Lone Star Film Festival in Fort Worth before opening in theaters next month.

The story takes place on the titular Louisiana bayou, where a former Marine (Cage) becomes caught in a web of deceit and betrayal involving his wife (KaDee Strickland) and a handyman (Luke Benward). With a hurricane approaching, their lives take a sinister turn, which prompts a detective (Grammer) to launch a murder investigation with few clues and little cooperation.

“I thought I could make a really cool Southern Gothic thriller,” Jallah said. “I wasn’t too sure how it would be received, because we went pretty dark. I was pretty nervous during post-production. But so far, so good.”

Jallah graduated from Dunbar High School in 2005 before enrolling a few years later in a media program at North Lake College, which gave him a technical background. He also took classes in screenwriting and theater.

Along the way, he worked various freelance media jobs on the side during full-time employment as a door-to-door salesman for a mom-and-pop fencing company.

“I met so many interesting people,” Jallah said. “A couple of them inspired me when I was creating characters for this script — the rich Southern belle, the ex-Marine that can’t stop talking about his war days, the Cowboys fan — those people kind of stuck with me.”

After Jallah moved to Los Angeles two years ago, he got his script in the hands of producer Jeff Rice (Lone Survivor), a frequent collaborator with Cage.

Both signed on, as did director Stephen Campanelli, a longtime camera operator for more than a dozen Clint Eastwood films. Campanelli became a mentor of sorts to Jallah, who hopes to add directing to his repertoire on future projects.

“I shadowed him very well on the technical side,” Jallah said. “I’m more into the dramatic and the character side. It was a good working relationship. Directing is definitely where my passion is.”

Since Grand Isle finished shooting in Baton Rouge last fall, it’s been a whirlwind for Jallah and his Dallas-based production company, FilmKeyz Productions. Besides finishing the film and courting potential distributors at industry screenings, he’s launched the comedy series “Rich Africans” on Amazon Prime, and begun work on other new projects.

“Growing up in Fort Worth, this type of career might not seem possible,” Jallah said. “It’s hard to get your movie made, but it’s definitely doable. Hopefully I can inspire other filmmakers.”


Iver Jallah and executive producer Jesse Porter will participate in a Q&A following Friday’s screening at the Lone Star Film Festival.

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