After studying Communication and Journalism at MSU, Pamela Sherrod Anderson's films debut on the world stage
“In a way, I feel like the stories find me.”
All her life, Pamela Sherrod Anderson has had a passion for storytelling. “I had a father and a mother who were very conscious about being informed,” said Anderson. “My parents would read the newspaper to me at night, and tell stories from their life, instead of the fairy tales. I always enjoyed hearing the old folks’ stories from around the neighborhood. So even then, I guess I was laying the groundwork for being a storyteller by taking in these stories.”
Anderson has translated that passion for stories into a long and successful career working in a variety of different roles. She is the founder of Graceworks Theater and Film Productions LLC. She is also an award-winning writer, filmmaker, playwright, educator, and journalist.
Her most recent documentary The G Force, was recognized as a Semi-Finalist at the 2020 Cannes International Independent Film Festival (CIIFF). The G Force is a film that highlights the rising trend in society of grandparents raising their grandchildren.
"These grandparents really stepped up to help out their adult children because of economic reasons or maybe a parent passed away but there are a number of reasons why grandparents are coming into the picture and G-Force tells that story," said Anderson. "These grandparents only have so much time to pass on knowledge to grandkids and help their grandchildren get to a stable place in life."
The Cannes International Independent Film Festival was established in 2019. The festival is intended to serve as an opportunity for independent filmmakers to showcase their talents, to reveal the talents of tomorrow, and to create an international competition. While this festival is a relative newcomer compared to the legendary Festival De Cannes, CIIF still boasts a diverse selection of films featuring films from Ghana, Taiwan, Bulgaria, the Philippines, Russia, Qatar, and more.
In addition to CIIF, The G Force has also been recognized at the Black Harvest Film Festival, the Gary International Black Film Festival, and is being shown through Dec. 13 at the Anchorage International Film Festival in Alaska.
“Whether it’s in Europe, or across the United States, or right here in the Midwest, there is a universal story about grandparents stepping up and making sure that thread of family stays in place for their grandchildren,” said Anderson.
She actually stumbled upon the story for The G Force while working on her first feature-length documentary: The Curators of Dixon School.
“While I was at Dixon Elementary, I started to meet a lot of Grandmas, Nannas, and Big Mommas, but realized I wasn’t meeting as many moms and dads,” said Anderson. “I finished up The Curators of Dixon School, but I knew this was a story I wanted to come back to.”
The Curators of Dixon School won the Black Harvest Film Festival “Best Feature Audience” award in 2012. Anderson went on tour across the country for almost a year with the documentary being shown at film festivals and national teacher conferences.
“Within this elementary school, that was located in a zip code of Chicago that doesn’t always get the best press, I found more than 300 original pieces of artwork made by African-American men and women,” she said. The documentary explores how Dixon Elementary has a curriculum that uniquely intertwines African art, culture, and music into the students’ everyday lesson plans.
Anderson is a Chicago native and was one of only two graduating African Americans in her class when she was at MSU. She earned a Bachelor's in English and Education from DePaul University, and a Master's in Communication with an emphasis in Journalism from Michigan State University. She did her final thesis on Ethel Payne, the first African-American woman to be a White House correspondent.
“I went to graduate school at Michigan State University and I can't even put a price tag on it in terms of the value. It made such a difference to me and my career,” said Anderson. “It made me really see myself more in terms of what I could do in my career and the kind of person I wanted to be.”
In addition to earning her master’s here at MSU, she is Board Chair for the award-winning and Oscar-nominated Kartemquin Films whose social justice-themed films started 55 years ago and is now fueled by new and diverse voices. She continues to help the Spartan community by serving as a member of the ComArtSci advisory board.
Anderson cites the importance of her being able to look up to her parents and having neighborhood role models as a pivotal part of her success.
“Mentorship is very important and is not something to be relegated to just something you do on the weekend,” said Anderson. “I believe in each one, teach one, reach one by example. Even if I'm teaching in the journalism department or in the film department, relationships and making real connections to others is what truly matters.”
By Joe Strother