PENS & PENCILS

A high school teacher finds herself on wild-goose chase to find a missing student that no one else seems to miss.

  • Gem Little
    Writer
    THE PORTRAIT
  • Gem Little
    Producer
    THE PORTRAIT, HELLO, MALCOLM, GARAGE, MARGINALIZED, THE SUIT, AUNTELER
  • Gia-Rayne Harris
    Director
    BEFORE YOU, THE SUIT
  • Dorée Seay
    Key Cast
    "Ms. Johnson"
    Project 321, Shameless, Before You, The View from Here,
  • Tim Johnson Jr.
    Key Cast
    "Caleb"
    Pacific Rim: Uprising; Fist Fight; Future Man;
  • Project Type:
    Short
  • Genres:
    Horror, Thriller
  • Runtime:
    15 minutes 22 seconds
  • Completion Date:
    November 12, 2021
  • Production Budget:
    25,000 USD
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Language:
    English
  • Shooting Format:
    Digital
  • Film Color:
    Color
  • First-time Filmmaker:
    No
  • Student Project:
    Yes - American Film Institute
  • Black TV & Film Collective Black Producers Fellowship
    New York
    United States
    NA
    Screenplay Awarded Fellowship
  • New Filmmakers LA - February 2022
Director Biography - Gia-Rayne Harris

GEM LITTLE | WRITER & PRODUCER
(Photographed here and primary film representation)
Gem Little, a Chicago native, is a writer and creative producer based in Los Angeles. She currently works as an independent producer and development consultant helping to identify unique stories and voices to cultivate. When she’s not doing that, she teaches at the Los Angeles County High School of the Arts in the Cinematic Arts department.

Gem is a recent MFA graduate of the American Film Institute Conservatory and in her time there she held internships with MACRO and Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY Filmworks.

Aside from her work as a filmmaker, Gem is best known for her work in social impact, having started Indiana’s state-wide program that helps justice-involved people start their own small businesses. In 2018, Gem received an MA in urban planning and moved to Los Angeles to assist with strategic planning at the Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority.

Gem was recently tapped as one of six producers to be part of the Wavelength Productions and Black TV & Film Collective’s New Black Wave program to produce a short film that she wrote about the school-to-prison pipeline, PENS & PENCILS.

GIA-RAYNE HARRIS | DIRECTOR
Gia-Rayne B. Harris is a writer/director, UPenn alumna and a Mississippi native. During undergrad, she was the assistant to the producer of 4 MINUTE MILE, a Netflix film. After UPenn she moved to NYC where she lived for five years directing, writing, producing, and creatively consulting on various short films, plays, books and
screenplays. She’s a former member of the New York Neo Futurists where she wrote, directed, and performed short plays on stage weekly. In her two years with them she premiered over 60 original short plays and coordinated their internship program.

In 2018, she directed her first short film which was a campaign with The Advocate Magazine called #LEADWITHLOVE. Gia-Rayne is currently completing an MFA in Directing at the American Film Institute Conservatory.

Upon graduating, Gia-Rayne seeks to place black women at the center of her narratives and sees her career as a love letter to them.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

FROM GEM LITTLE - WRITER/PRODUCER
“With the rise of metal detectors, surveillance cameras, and pat-downs in schools, students interact with police during a formative period that shapes their life-long attitudes and life trajectories. Schools become the new frontiers of broken-windows policing, with a focus on social control and punitive measures instead of on education and growth.” – CARLA SHEDD, Associate Profressor of Urban Education & Sociology, Columbia

I attended Chicago Public Schools until I was about 13-years-old and I don’t remember a time when we didn’t have School Resource Officers. Even after moving to what we thought was a safer community, and my sister and I attending township schools, police officers were part of my everyday environment. It shocks me how accustomed we’ve become to the alignment between our public schools and our criminal justice system - both deeply broken and challenged systems that somehow work together to create one of our most pervasive issues today - the school to prison pipeline.

I was about 9-years-old when our school installed metal detectors and started searching students as we arrived at school. History says this was a result of increased school shootings in the 90s. If you had a clear backpack, you could pass through the metal detectors and your stuff didn’t have to be searched. My mom refused to buy me a new backpack since she’d just bought me the Lisa Frank backpack I begged her for. Having School Resource Officers wasn’t my first interaction with police growing up in inner-city Chicago - nor was walking through metal detectors because I used to visit my uncle often who was incarcerated for most of my childhood.

These experiences are not uncommon - especially for kids growing up in large cities, living in neighborhoods that have been under-resourced and over-policed for decades. The interactions my peers and I had with those School Resource Officers have absolutely influenced the way I perceive law enforcement and authority figures broadly.

Fast forward to a few years ago when I began to work within the criminal justice system to help those currently and formerly incarcerated become entrepreneurs as an alternative to the traditional job market that excludes them. I would teach at both the women’s and men’s prisons - and I couldn’t help but see the similarities in my school environments and the prison environment.

The single-file lines. The unnecessary lack of respect for those being surveilled. The strict rules for hall passes. The strict rules for wardrobe and appearance. The food.

The director I have chosen for this project comes from a very different background. With primarily a Catholic school upbringing and continued education at two PWI’s you would expect all of what I previously listed to be foreign to her. However, Rayne was raised by a police officer who became an SRO at a public school in Rayne’s formative years. Her proximity and then induction into the public school system with only two years left in high school put her square in the middle of this issue. While her mother was someone who acted more as a mother to all the children she encountered, buying them lunch, and belts, and anything else that would prevent them from an education - the people her mother worked with and was fighting to protect them all from outnumbered her greatly. Rayne watched as her mom came home defeated on several occasions having not been called to the scene or had not been able to “get there in time” when a student with a minor behavioral infraction became grounds for arrests, suspension and expulsion.

Our main character - Mallory Johnson shares Rayne’s mother’s intersectionality - as she is a black teacher in an underserved school who has been tasked to spend more time on the discipline of her students when all she wants is for them to learn.

Pens and Pencils will examine the intersectionality between our country’s education and criminal justice systems - how this unfortunate symbiosis reinforces racial inequality and disparities in the advancement of kids of color; how it has caused an increase in youth incarceration and therefore their ongoing engagement with a system it’s impossible to escape.