[EXCLUSIVE] KIMBERLEY T. ZULKOWSKI: GRANDMA'S HOUSE
Kimberley Zulkowski is well on her way to becoming a powerful name in Hollywood film. Her name and brand is behind the film, Grandma’s House, which is currently being featured at the Greater Cleveland Urban Film Festival. Starring Loretta Devine, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Jordan Calloway, Paige Hurd, Coco Jones, Alex Thomas, Flex Alexander, and so many other powerful Hollywood figures, the films aims to pay tribute to the many grandmothers who assume the position of “mom” for their grandchildren, and their communities around them.
Truly a story that will resonate with many, Grandma’s House is screening this week in Cleveland, Ohio for GCUFF’s annual event.
We had an opportunity to sit and talk with Kimberley about the film, and the mark she was hoping to make. Check out the story below!
U.G. Digital Mag: Thank you so much for the opportunity. Your film immediately struck my attention.
Kimberley Zulkowski: You’re welcome, thank you.
U.G. Digital Mag: You have an amazing project here. Congratulations are in order for getting it to the festival.
Kimberley Zulkowski: Thank you.
U.G. Digital Mag: Is this your first time doing GCUFF?
Kimberley Zulkowski: This was my first film, and it’s in memory of my grandmother who took me in at 14 out of foster care. It’s based on her life and the pillar she was in the community. During those times, the grandmothers really took care of children, and it’s very different now. You don’t have that dynamic anymore because the grandmothers are still dating like the daughters and grandchildren are dating. There’s no sense of morals and values, like cooking in the kitchen with grandma, peeling potatoes and making homemade food, and her teaching you. I felt like our generation this day and age needed a reminder. It’s also to honor those who go unnoticed and work so hard to care for their grandchildren as their own. It was a tribute to my grandmother, and grandmothers everywhere.
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s an awesome story. Comedians make reference to this type fo story in their routines all the time, but it’s never been covered this way. My grandmother carried the same nurturing spirit. You have such an amazing cast involved, from Loretta Devine and Alex Thomas to Stephen Bishop and Wendy Raquel Robinson. How did you determine who you wanted?
Kimberley Zulkowski: Well, for Ms. Loretta Devine, it was a given. I wrote this script with her in mind. Seeing the characters she’s played in her career, she’s been the grandmother for so many people. If there was anyone to bring my grandmother back to life on screen, it would be her. I reached out to her agent, letting them know this script was made for her to play this role. We were not interested in anyone else. She read the script and she could relate, saying it reminded of her own grandmother. She was all in. She has been amazing.
U.G. Digital Mag: That had to be a good feeling, not just reaching out to someone you’ve admired, but having that person even agree to do it.
Kimberley Zulkowski: Yes, and she’s been great. She came to the red carpet premiere we had in Milwaukee, and she’s just been amazing. Her heart is really in the project. For Wendy Raquel Robinson, I wanted her to bring out the many personalities that my aunts had. She represented multiple people with her situation, her recovery, and wanting her children to not struggle with relationships. I’ve seen what she has pulled off on television, and thought it would be an appropriate role for her. We approached her agent, and they went with it. Same thing with Alex Thomas and Jaszmin Lewis. The great thing with Alex is this was his first feature film. He did an amazing job. It was a different character for him to play. I was very pleased with his performance. Coco Jones was a big Disney star. Actually, I wasn’t sure who I wanted to play her, which was a portrayal of me. My children were saying “mom, you have to get Coco Jones”. She was interested. It was a matter of putting together a solid script where all the characters were just as important as the matriarch. They realized they would get adequate exposure.
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s amazing. I look at all of the characters, and even the ones we didn’t mention and realize how big this will be. I almost missed Flex Alexander as well. What did you want to get out of this film?
Kimberley Zulkowski: I wanted to take people down memory lane in a good way, and remind them of the individuals who took the time to take care of them. It gives them an opportunity to do it for someone else. You’ll see in the film that grandma Margie is everyone’s grandma, including foster kids. Her home is a safe haven, and she doesn’t judge you. You can make your mistakes, and when you fall, she’s there to pick you up. That still is not to be abused, because she may not always be there.
U.G. Digital Mag: This will open a lot of eyes. There’s a lot of people who think it’s easy to get to this point with a film, especially when there’s a lot of big names. Why was it important for you to connect with GCUFF?
Kimberley Zulkowski: It’s still very difficult for us. We don’t have the distributors knocking down our doors, or the same platforms that our counters have when they make a film. There are very few black festivals. You want your film to be seen and shown, but you have yo go back to your people for it to happen. The urban film festival is our voice. I’m grateful for GCUFF because it’s a way for exposure that our films, sadly, will not get because it isn’t a studio film. There aren’t millions of dollars to advertise. It’s a work in progress, and a lot of people wish they could wake up and be a Tyler Perry, or have their own network like Oprah. It’s few and far between for us to have that platform. It’s still a white dominated industry. I don’t say that negatively, but it’s time for that tie to be split equally.
U.G. Digital Mag: I think it’s reality and you make many great points. This is definitely a way for people to see your product. We’ve had so many come and do this festival, big and small. It’s an amazing avenue. I would love for readers to know more about additional projects that you have in the works.
Kimberley Zulkowski: Absolutely. We just finished editing a project called 53206 Milwaukee. It’s extremely special and dear to me. It’s about the struggles we face in the inner city. 53206 is the worst zip code in Milwaukee. There are homicides here in the city every day, and people don’t know about it. You think Milwaukee, and you think dairy land. There’s a black population falling every day. We are a minority of less than 200,000, and we are being shot and killed everyday. A study came out showing it as the worst place for black people to live. It’s the most segregated city there is. We are ten times more likely to be shot and killed there than Chicago because of the population ratio. So, what I did was take the homicide stories within a year, and represent those stories, talk about those victims, and show the world what we’re going through in Milwaukee in the eyes of our youth. Three weeks ago, I buried a little boy who was ready to go fishing with his father. He was running in the house to tell him mother they were leaving. A shootout happened and he was shot In the head. Four months before that, we buried a nine year old little girl. Our children aren’t making it to teenagers, let alone adulthood. This film talks about what’s happening, but also represents all urban zip codes in the world where violence is increasing, and the victim’s voice s not being heard. One of the great things is I took all cast from the city of Milwaukee. I brought an acting coach down from L.A. who taught them how to act and do the scenes. They did an mazing job. You would never believe these individuals have never acted before. Only people who have been through it can tell a story the way that we told it in this film. We had extras show up while filming because the entire city was excited. Even two of those extras during the process of editing were killed. Melanie was 14, sitting in her kitchen. She was killed in a shootout. Clinton Washington was in one of our scenes, and he was killed two weeks after we did a picture wrap. It’s very real, and something we hold to show the world what’s going on in the urban inner city, and the talent that goes unnoticed. If someone took notice of that talent and grabbed hold of these children, the result would be a feature in Hollywood like what we made.
U.G. Digital Mag: It’s amazing to hear that. I had no idea this was the way it was in Milwaukee. When do you see it becoming available to everyone?
Kimberley Zulkowski: We just submitted it to Sundance, and now we are making it available to all other festivals. We literally just submitted to Sundance. Sadly, my producers feel like they have to accept the film; I err on the side of caution, and ask why would they? Perhaps they should, but how many of our films do we ever see there? I’m going with a plan B and making it available to all the other festivals.
U.G. Digital Mag: I look forward to seeing the full film. Are there any final words?
Kimberley Zulkowski: I want to thank everyone involved with GCUFF. Without festivals like these, people like me would not have a platform. This is important and needed. I’m thankful to everyone, and grateful to be a part of it, and to the participants and viewers who will watch. I look forward to the feedback.