Elijah Wells was just 10 years old when he knew he wanted to direct films. He remembers Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing” as the pivotal lm that spiked his interest at the time. “When it comes to just his [Lee] story of being a young African American male getting into the industry and really dominating it, and still creating films of people of color just to show them in a different light, is what really captivated me,” Wells explained.
Today, the 22-year-old Black filmmaker from Overtown is up next. That is, up next in joining the club of iconic Black film directors like Spike Lee; Tyler Perry; Robert Townsend; Ryan Coogler; Ava DuVernay; and John Singleton.
Born the youngest among seven half siblings, Wells grew up between Overtown and Allapattah and recalls living an ordinary, simple life in his earliest years. It wouldn’t be until 2010, when he started seventh grade at Miami Arts Charter, that he would begin making moves in film directing. At 14, Wells submitted his first short film to the American Black Film Festival. Titled, “The Gift,” this was his first production, with a plot he described as being loosely based on his life, but through the portrayal and perspective of the opposite gender.
“The Gift” debuted at the 2012 ABFF, which made Wells one of the youngest filmmakers to submit and have his production showcased at the Lincoln Theatre, the oldest theater on Lincoln Road in Miami Beach. “It was a real pat-on-the-back moment,” he recalls.
The director has even ventured into shooting music videos, linking up with mainstream stars such as actor, rapper and TV host Romeo Miller; singer CeeLo Green; and Memphis rapper Blocboy JB.
Atlanta has been a city of ‘filmspiration’ high on Well’s radar. The Georgia capital is also home to the production studio of Black filmmaker Tyler Perry – one of Wells’ biggest inspirations in lm directing. Like Perry, Wells says he’s dabbled in directing plays and looks up to Perry for sharing this similarity.
Wells has created a legacy in his annual IGen Film Festival. The young director launched his own lm festival four years ago, with hopes to give kids today the opportunity he would’ve wanted as a kid attending a film festival. “I was very young when I started going to film festivals, but I had enough knowledge to where I could talk to people,” he remembers. “But when it came to doing something outside the festival, it was always, ‘nah you’re too young’ or ‘I need somebody more seasoned.’”
This year will mark the fifth annual IGen Film Festival at Overtown’s Lyric Theater. Last year, the festival became international having received entries from countries such as Ghana, Russia and China.
While the festival is catered to the youth, Wells welcomes all walks of life to appreciate film at his festival.
“I don’t discriminate when it comes to race or gender,” he said. “As long as you love film I’m always here for it.”