Megz Kelli on Her New Orleans-Set Directorial Debut "little trumpet"
Magna Carda and BLK ODYSSY collaborate on short film score
For her debut short film, Megan Trufant Tillman – known locally as Megz Kelli of hip-hop duo Magna Carda – pulls from her own upbringing. Set where the artist grew up, in New Orleans' 7th Ward, "little trumpet" follows 24 hours in the life of "9-year-old loner" Javon Hamilton. The 30-minute short will screen at AFS Cinema this Saturday, Nov. 5, during the third annual local edition of Sound Unseen film festival.
Tillman's "little trumpet" joins a variety of musically themed programming at the Minnesota-launched fest, including Aughts NYC-focused full-length Meet Me in the Bathroom and a short doc on local Waterloo Records. Sound Unseen runs Thursday through Sunday, with in-person tickets ranging from $13 to $15 at soundunseen.com. The weekend kicks off a number of planned festival stops for "little trumpet."
"When I thought about my own story, the first place I go back to is my childhood," Tillman says. "It was really important to start there and unpack. So, I wanted to tell this story specifically through a child's lens and really advocate for that voice."
In the film, lead Hamilton just wants his older brother to teach him how to play trumpet so that he can ultimately join a band, which the director describes as one of the biggest aspirations for New Orleanian youth. Tillman cites "the push and pull of his community" as a central force in the young character's life – and a familiar challenge for many people she grew up with.
"New Orleans – it's vibrant, colorful, and rich with so much culture," says Tillman. "But at the same time, part of that history is what the people have been through … political, race, class, social issues. Growing up in the city, there were a lot of things that young kids experienced that the average person wouldn't think is normal. Loss, crime, and poverty interrupt a lot of people's paths."
A mission to authentically represent her roots and advocate for underrepresented voices naturally led Tillman to bring music into the picture. "Little trumpet" features an original score by Magna Carda, the MC's established project with producer Chris Beale (aka Dougie Do). The expansion of Tillman's genre horizons as a composer aligned with her participation last year in Project Traction, an incubator for women and nonbinary producers launched by Spoon's Jim Eno.
"In Magna Carda, we're always looking for our next big venture," the lyricist says. "Film has been a passion of ours in this way that works through our music, so it almost felt natural to go to Magna Carda and start building this musical world for 'little trumpet.' We were excited to do something new and in a territory we haven't been in before."
The duo co-composed the soundtrack with BLK ODYSSY principal Juwan Elcock – a collaboration that Tillman says was a no-brainer.
"He's a good friend of ours – we always talk about these stories, and we come from similar backgrounds," says Tillman. "We knew he could understand the work and sonically bring the soundtrack to life as another component to 'little trumpet's storytelling."
After spending a little over a year working on "little trumpet," the Austinite says the experience made her want to continue writing and creating in a visual style. She also reveals that the film catalyzed a new bout of creativity for her band, last heard on 2021 LP To the Good People.
"Magna Carda is cooking up something new," Tillman says. "We were really inspired by working on 'little trumpet's music, and it really pushed us to do the next project we're working on now with the same energy and momentum … I will just continue to creatively find new ways to tell stories and do my life's work, which is storytelling."