Niyi Coker’s film “Pennies for the Boatman” won best film script at the Madrid International Film Festival. (Photo by Madrid International Film Festival)

Niyi Coker’s film “Pennies for the Boatman” took center stage at the Madrid International Film Festival by beating out the competition and taking home the prize for best film script.

“We could not have won without the wisdom and contribution of many facets of the University of Missouri–St. Louis community,” said Coker, the E. Desmond Lee Endowed Professor of African/African American Studies at UMSL.

“Pennies for the Boatman” was set and shot in St. Louis. The dramatic film takes place in north St. Louis during the summer of 1958. It’s about the stormy relationship between two sisters. The movie is an adaptation of St. Louis playwright Mario Farwell’s “The Seamstress of St. Francis Street.”

The film was originally up for four awards at the Madrid festival: best film of the festival, best director, best feature film and best film script.

Coker said the idea for the movie sprang from a meeting he had several years ago with members of the Des Lee Collaborative Vision.

“The project has succeeded primarily due to several committed people, namely E. Desmond Lee himself, who did not think twice about writing the initial check dedicated solely to making the film when I approached him with the completed film script of  “Pennies for the Boatman,” and the E. Desmond Lee Collaborative Vision for arranging that meeting.”

In his acceptance speech, Coker was sure to emphasize that the movie was a group effort that involved the UMSL community.

“I truly feel blessed to have these wonderful colleagues and entities to work with,” he said.

Coker said he truly appreciated the work of Jim Abernathy, production coordinator in Information Technology Services, for all his technical production support and post-production work.

“He was with me in it from the hilt and was married to it for almost three years as well,” Coker said.

On the heels of his festival win, Coker learned that his film has secured a distribution deal in Europe. A1 Pictures in England has picked up “Pennies for the Boatman” for European theater releases and eventually worldwide DVD distribution.

Coker’s directing credits include “Black Studies USA” and “The Black 14,” as well as more than 50 major stage productions.

Read more about the lead-up to Coker’s Madrid International Film Festival win in the June issue of St. Louis Magazine.

Myra Lopez

Myra Lopez