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Sheldon Shepherd Cops Best Actor Award at ABFF

Shepherd plays Ricky in Better Mus Come (photo courtesy of Better Mus Come)

Actor and performance poet Sheldon Shepherd has further feathered the cap of Storm Saulter’s Better Mus Come by copping the award for Best Performance by an Actor (Male or Female) at the American Black Film Festival (ABFF) in Miami Beach, Florida, June 20 - 23, 2012. Shepherd tied with Malinda Williams (The Undershepherd) for the grand jury prize.

With his usual easy smile firmly in place, Shepherd expresses both pride and confidence when Susumba catches up with him at Redbones for Kingston on the Edge’s film festival. Shepherd explains that before arriving at the ABFF he had not fully realized that he was up against some of the most recognizable names from Black Hollywood such as Isaiah Washington (Grey’s Anatomy, Romeo Must Die) and rapper and actor Common. Malinda Williams with whom Shepherd shared the award has years of television and film acting under her belt. She is best known for her roles in Soul Food (the TV series), The Wood and Daddy’s Little Girls.

Shepherd during the Nomaddz performance at Calabash 2012“Mi never know say a them big name deh,” he says with a laugh. “Mi did think say a some nobody like me.” Of course the growing fan base of both Better Mus Come and his performance group Nomaddz, are already confident that Shepherd is far from nobody status. The band is currently in the midst of shooting a music video for their single ‘Sort Out You Life Jamaica’ and are putting arrangements in place for a tour of Europe in the summer. “We’re forging relationships with other independent music producers who are doing interesting and edgy things,” he explained.

Shepherd says that the ABFF win has helped to further cement his commitment to his career as a performer, and confirmed his belief that he can make it in the big leagues. “Truthfully this just makes me feel that I’m on the right track,” he says. “It just makes me feel that I can press on.”

Director Storm Saulter, explained that Better Mus Come received much attention at the 2012 ABFF. The film had also been nominated for Best Screenplay and Best Director. “We were perhaps the most buzzed about film in the festival and Sheldon Shepherd’s magnetism was really powerful,” he said. “He tore down the house with his speech. ”

The Shepherd magnetism of which Saulter speaks is in full effect during the interview. He laughs as he recalls his speech and explains that he was dressed in a suit handed down to him from his grandfather. Shepherd explains that he ended his speech with the line “breadfruit is the new bread,” which is his way of signaling the impact that the Caribbean Arts will continue to have on the world, where breadfruit, one of our staples will eclipse the far less nutritious, but more acclaimed bread.

Along with its entry in the ABFF, Better Mus Come has been pushing forward in numerous festivals. Saulter explains that although the film festival circuit is gruelling, but sees it as a path that all serious filmmakers should take as it is critical to promotion, especially for independent films. 

“The film festival circuit may be grueling and confusing at times but Better Mus Come has found new life there and has become a force to be reckoned with not only in the Caribbean but internationally,” he said. The film has entered the Trinidad and Tobago Film Festival (2011) where it copped the award for Best Narrative Feature; the Bahamas International Film Festival (2011) where it earned Best Narrative Feature and an Honourable Mention for the Spirit of Freedom award; The Pan African Film Festival (2012) where it snatched the Best Director, First Feature award.

“All of the Awards and nominations are quite meaningful honestly, because they are a testament to the different elements of the film that people found to to be powerful,” confesses Saulter.  “We've beat international films with budgets way above our own. Caribbean cinema is on the rise.”
Saulter goes on to note that the acting talent, such as Shepherd are an important element of that rise.  “He (Shepherd) and his fellow actors are putting Caribbean acting on the cinematic map,” Saulter said. “He's always been a genuine star, now the World is waking up to it.”

The Nomaddz Shepherd remarks that Robert Townsend had suggested to himself and Saulter that they should use the win as “jet fuel” for their career. He notes however that the road forward will be filled with trial and error and that he must learn to balance his work and home life. “Me feel like me want to go out and work more, and it make me want to come home more,” he says speaking of the joy of his one year-old son meeting him at the airport.

“Something is happening,” Shepherd says, “and we embrace it. We don’t try to control it. We’re along for the ride and it’s been good so far.”