By Sara Wiercinski
Parker is the story of a Kansas City family facing a complex decision: to change their last name.
The film is one of several Kansas City stories from Kansas City filmmakers that are part of the upcoming Kansas City FilmFest International. Now in its 27th year, the festival runs from March 27-29 at AMC Ward Parkway 14.
The 13-minute documentary short is co-directed by Sharon Liese and Catherine Hoffman. It premiered at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival.
Director Sharon Liese is originally from upstate New York but has lived in Kansas City for many years.
“I love how empowering it is when people tell their own stories,” said Liese. “I like to look right in my backyard, so to speak, for my film ideas.”
Liese knew Adolphus Parker as a house painter for more than 15 years.
“I found Parker fascinating. His perspective on life intrigued me. I always thought about doing a documentary on him but never knew the topic.”
When Parker asked Liese’s husband, who is a lawyer, for legal advice on name changes, Liese recognized the theme for her next project.
“This was the story to tell,” said Liese. “For people in this family, starting with his son, they didn’t have the proper last name to connect the family. It was a wrong that happened years ago that they wanted to correct.”
Liese consulted the family, and everyone was on board with letting her follow their story.
When Parker first fell in love with Sedoria Harris, she was separated but still legally married to someone else. During that time, Parker and Harris had a son, Matt. Because she was still married, Matt was given the last name Harris, the name of Sedoria’s then-husband. The two wanted to legally change their son’s name, but time and cost delayed the action. Matt grew up, married and had children, who all carried the last name Harris.
Three generations of the family reveal the disconnect experienced as a result of being given the wrong last name. Exploring one’s own name and identity is a persistent theme in art, and particularly powerful for African Americans, some of whom still carry last names of their ancestors’ enslavers.
“This is a story of black joy,” said Liese. “We don’t see that theme enough in the cinema today.”
Liese and co-director Hoffman met at a panel for women in film. The two started talking about projects and decided to collaborate.
“I like to work with young, emerging talent. Catherine really liked the project and wanted to get involved. It was a perfect fit.”
Filming for the project took place in Kansas City on and off for nine months in 2022. There were scheduling delays when first a set crew member then a family member each got COVID.
The Parkers first saw the final film together at its Sundance world premiere on January 19 in Park City, Utah.
“They chose to attend and watch for the first time in front of an audience,” said Liese. “There were tears. The audience laughed in the right places. They smiled and cheered.”
Parker returns to Kansas City this weekend as one of more than 150 films showing at Kansas City FilmFest International. It plays at 6:30 pm on Sunday, March 27. After the showing, Kansas City television host and producer D. Rashaan Gilmore will lead an audience question and answer session with the filmmakers.
“It is so special to show a film in the city it was produced in. You get people who know the subjects, and they’ll see familiar places.” said Liese.
Liese made her first documentary, High School Confidential, in 2008. She followed twelve girls over their four-year experiences at Blue Valley Northwest High School. She repeated the film project twice with new subjects, both locally and in Chicago.
Liese’s 2020 award-winning feature documentary Transhood followed four kids over five years growing up transgender in Kansas City. In her 2022 film Flagmakers, Liese takes viewers to Wisconsin to meet employees of Eder Flag, the nation’s largest producer of American flags. It is available to stream on Disney Plus.
Hoffman is a 2020 graduate of the University of Missouri-Columbia with degrees in Journalism, Black Studies and French. Her reporting work for Kansas City PBS’ Flatland on the subjects of homelessness and racism in birth care both earned Mid America Regional Emmy awards from the National Academy of Television, Arts and Sciences.
Liese regularly attends film festivals around the country, and sees great value in a long-standing film festival like KCFFI right here in Kansas City.
“Most people don’t realize how much filmmaking goes on in Kansas City, how many skilled and talented creative types are here. There’s a lot of great art made here.”
Tickets to see Parker on Sunday are sold out, but the festival offers many other great films. For more information or to watch the Parker trailer, visit kcfilmfest.org.