Independent film, shot in Dover, examines a small town after a police shooting

Terrance Tykeem is fulfilling a promise to the people of Dover by debuting his latest film project, “Jason’s Letter,” in the Capital City.

The one-time-only screening will take place June 11 at the Schwartz Center for the Arts.

About 75 percent of the 94-minute film was shot in Dover, and Tykeem told Mayor Robin Christiansen he’d premiere the completed project here as compensation for using city facilities, including City Hall and the public library.

The film shows the impact of a 12-year-old’s reaction to the police shooting of a young black man in a small, unnamed town.

“Jason’s Letter” stars Vivica A. Fox, Quinton Aaron, Claudia Jordan, Joe Gannascoli and newcomer Jamol Manigault as Jason McKey.

Tykeem said the movie is an examination of the racial environment in communities across America. He wants it to start people thinking about how they relate to each other in all aspects, including race.

“It’s one of those films that will force you to have that conversation,” he said. “They’re not having that conversation, they’re ducking it.

“But you have to address it because none of this stuff will stop otherwise.”

Tykeem thinks some people’s negative attitudes dehumanizes young black males, making them a target for suspicion and distrust.

In the film, racial tensions are ignited when a young black man is shot without provocation by law enforcement. The city’s residents are forced to confront the situation and to seek solutions when Jason McKey offers his comments in a letter read to his city council.

The film has its roots in the unrest that followed the August 2014 shooting of a black man in Ferguson, Missouri.

“A friend told me he had a letter from a little boy in Ferguson he wanted me to read and write a book about,” Tykeem said. The letter, which had started as a school project, discussed the boy’s ideas about the issue of police and their relationship with their communities.

Tykeem set up a conference call with the boy and his mother to discuss the idea of a film.

The letter Manigault reads to the fictional city council is an almost verbatim transcript of the original project, Tykeem said.

“It’s pretty deep,” he said.

Filming in Dover

Tykeem’s production company, Philadelphia-based Diamond Mine Media Group, settled on Dover as a stand-in for Jason’s hometown.

A film crew rolled into Dover in early January to shoot scenes throughout the city. Work also centered on the Dover Public Library, where shooting took place on a Sunday morning and in the city council chambers in City Hall.

“We wanted some place that was small and looked like a town that would resemble the fictional town we came up with,” Tykeem said. “Dover was ideal.”

Scenes inside the council chambers featured Fox as the town’s mayor as well as several local residents as extras in the audience. Christiansen and Councilman William F. Hare portrayed councilmen listening to Jason read his letter.

Dover Public Information Officer Kay Sass said the production helped put a positive spotlight on Dover.

“It was a fantastic opportunity to have participated in the filming of “Jason’s Letter,” she said.

Tykeem has had offers from two television networks -- he didn’t say which ones -- who want to air “Jason’s Letter” and there will be representatives from HBO, TNT and the USA Network at the Schwartz screening. He’s also got a meeting with officials from BET on tap.

Most of the cast, including Fox, will be on hand for a meet-and-greet at the screening.