There was too much at stake for Brandon Lewis to say anything about his symptoms. As he played one of the starring roles in Jerico, the Dallas-based feature film debut he wrote almost a decade ago, Lewis felt off, but he kept to himself. He didn’t even mention anything to his wife, Seckeita, who sat in the director’s chair.
After filming wrapped, a doctor told him he was type-2 diabetic and prescribed him a “cocktail of medicines.” Two years later, the diagnosis was upgraded as his vision and kidneys were threatened. Lewis knew diet and lifestyle changes were in order, but he also had to keep working.
“I prided myself on being this fat funny guy,” said Lewis, who began his career in stand-up. “Then I realized that most of the guys that I grew up idolizing and admiring were dead. It’s funny until it isn’t funny.”
The Prosper couple chronicled his struggle with ImPossible, a new feature that weaves personal details into a fictional narrative. After filming primarily in North Texas last year, ImPossible premiered during the Austin Film Festival in October. Its first screening closer to home is this weekend at the Denton Black Film Festival. The Lewises also will lead a free workshop in Denton during the fest.
More importantly for its star, it became both a creative outlet and an accountability partner.
“An actor has to follow the script,” Lewis said. “If I put my own salvation into a script, then maybe I can save my own life.”
Lewis plays an obese aspiring police officer who is forced to lose weight after learning he has diabetes. The narrative is driven by an unexpected bond with a widowed fast-food worker (JoMarie Payton) and some unexpected encounters along his journey. Brandon the character ends the film significantly lighter than he began, which left Brandon the actor with no other choice but to change his lifestyle.
Rather than a documentary, the couple decided upon a fictionalized structure that melds comedy and drama, with a cast that includes veteran actors Sherri Shepherd and Irma P. Hall. The screenplay incorporates verbatim conversations between Brandon and his doctors and family members, along with a cameo from their 1-year-old daughter, whose future was another motivating factor for the lead.
“We had a language or a way to communicate with each other. I knew how he was feeling,” Seckeita said. “I was honored to direct him through this journey, and also pleasantly surprised.”
Meanwhile, the film changed Brandon’s life for the better. He’s no longer on any medications, and has lost more than 70 pounds — so far — after starting at over 350.
“It’s about hope. Type 2 diabetes is rampant,” Seckeita said. “This conversation happens in far too many households, and nobody takes it outside. We just want to make people aware. We want people to break that silence and support each other so we can fight against it.”
The lineup for the 10th annual multimedia festival, which runs Thursday through Sunday at various Denton and Dallas venues, includes several projects with local ties. Some also will be available online.
Riverbend —The festival will premiere a restored print of this 1989 low-budget thriller, shot in North Texas, about Black soldiers during Vietnam retaliating against a rigged court-martial and a racist sheriff in a small town. 2 p.m. on Jan. 26; 1179 Union Cir., Denton
Set — Among several short films on the schedule is the latest from Dallas filmmaker Ade Dina, which follows a young boy’s relationship with his gang-affiliated cousin over a night that changes both of them forever. 2:55 p.m. on Jan. 27; 214 W Hickory St., Denton
Step Dad — Dallas actors Kenny Gardner and Porsha Bunch Hall star in this romantic comedy from director Arthur Muhammad (Carter High) about a man trying to repair a relationship threatened by past secrets. 5:15 p.m. on Jan. 27; 3220 Town Center Tr., Denton
The Take Away — This short documentary chronicles the charisma and inspiration of Denton mother-and-daughter gospel singers Jerusha Smith and Cassandra Berry, and their family legacy of music and faith. 2:50 p.m. on Jan. 28; 3220 Town Center Tr., Denton
This or That — Dallas photographer and filmmaker Nitishia Johnson’s short film uses symbolism to examine how work-related stress and depression affects lifestyle and deteriorating environmental conditions. 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 27; 3220 Town Center Tr., Denton