Growing up black in the suburbs of Texas, Fred Leach felt the effects of amplified stereotypes, social isolation and marginalization, and unconscious prejudices.
This is why although the SMU graduate lived in Los Angeles for several years, he wanted to return home to shoot Caged birds, his directorial debut.
“I really wanted to tell a story that looked at the experience of black people from that point of view,” Leach said. “It was something that came from a real place. My goal was to make it authentic and real. The setting is important.
The coming-of-age drama, which premieres Sunday as part of the Dallas International Film Festival, was inspired by Leach’s experiences during her upbringing in the Houston area and at Richardson.
The story follows an affluent high school student (Kamil McFadden) with Ivy League aspirations who is bullied, his athletic cousin (Bentley Green) whose dreams of playing college basketball are partly derailed by racism, and a classmate (Christian Menace) who helps them play a prank for revenge. When the ploy turns against him, it jeopardizes their future.
“I’ve seen both sides of it,” Leach said. “I was the kid who felt like I wasn’t black enough because I wasn’t cool and didn’t play sports. And then when I got into high school and started playing sports, I was trying to be something that I wasn’t just in to try to fit in. “
After graduating from SMU in 2012 with degrees in film and history, Leach taught history for three years in Dallas as part of the Teach for America program.
He spent those summers traveling to California for film lessons and eventually made that move permanent a few years later. He gained experience writing and directing short films and web series.
Leach shot Caged birds in just 15 days in August 2019 to various locations in the Dallas area, with a mostly local cast and crew. Among the main cast, Green (Snowfall on TV) and Menace are both from Dallas.
The low-budget film, which takes its title from the iconic book by Maya Angelou, has screened at various festivals this year. It will be available on upstart streamer Urbanflix in November.
However, the DIFF screening will be its local premiere. Leach, Menace and co-star Aaliyah Muhammad will attend and participate in a question-and-answer session.
The abridged festival, which begins Friday at the Alamo Drafthouse Cedars, will bring Dallas premieres of fall headlines such as Wes Anderson’s The French dispatch, by Kenneth Branagh Belfast, and Mike Mills’ go! Go on, with Joaquin Phoenix.
The lineup also includes a handful of other features with connections to North Texas, including:
The flamboyant world –Fort Worth native Carlson Young (TV Scream) makes her directorial debut with this haunting story of a woman returning home to settle a family tragedy.
Dads Cats – Mye Hoang, SMU graduate and founder of the Dallas Asian Film Festival, made this airy documentary about the special relationship between humans and felines.
Jockey – Dallas filmmaker Clint Bentley’s debut feature garnered festival acclaim and acclaimed for its bittersweet story of an aging horseman trying to keep his career on track.
Kufi Krew: an American story – This documentary chronicles the founding of the country’s first Muslim brotherhood in UT Dallas, struggling for acceptance at a time of heightened social and racial tensions.
Miraculous fishing – The documentary by Miles Hargrove, from Dallas, reuses his own video diary to revisit his family’s heartbreaking efforts to save his father after being kidnapped by Colombian guerrillas in 1994.