Student documentary spotlights Tony Chennault’s life

Brenna Fallows

For years, Tony Chennault impressed crowds with his smooth skills on the basketball court. Now that his college career is over, he hopes to impress them with his skills behind the camera, as he pursues his passion for filmmaking and for community engagement.

This passion , along with Chennault’s life story as a whole, is the topic for this semester’s Social Justice Documentary. On Dec. 13, “In Transition: Tony Chennault” will be screened to educate Villanova students on the life story and philanthropic works of this notable alum.

Taught by Professors John O’Leary and Steve McWilliams, Social Justice Documentary is one of few offerings to Villanova students interested in film. O’Leary is a UCLA graduate who also teaches classes in film analysis and screenwriting. McWilliams primarily works for Disability Services, but with his passion for film he has remained a longstanding part of the Social Justice Documentary projects.

Participation in the class requires an application but is open to students of all disciplines. The entire six-credit course consists of the creation of a documentary film as a group project, where students are given the freedom to conduct interviews, utilize equipment and edit. Student Ellie Wright, a junior communications major, directs this year’s production. 

She’s taken the class before, and is now returning with a larger role. She says that it’s “the same thing has kept me coming back, and that’s the storytelling aspect of it all.” This film in particular is a lot of stories, according to Wright, “it’s a basketball story, a Villanova story, a Philly story, a story that could belong to any number of kids out there across the country and I think for that reason people will connect to it.”

In the past, the films have centered around conflicts of social justice, especially within the Philadelphia area. A previous piece, “All of Us Home,” featured Villanova’s efforts with the Student Run Emergency Housing Unit of Philadelphia. Last year’s feature, “Heel’d,” presented Philadelphia nonprofit Hand2Paw and their mission to bring homeless youth and homeless animals together. It was recognized with a nomination for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ 41st Student Academy Awards competition

This year’s film focuses on Villanova alum Tony Chennault, who graduated last year. Notably, Chennault had a successful career with the men’s basketball team. 

From a young age, Chennault desired to be a part of the NBA after his collegiate career came to an end. This is a typical aspiration of the youth in his native North Philadelphia neighborhood. He began his Division I college career at Wake Forest University before transferring to Villanova to be closer to his sick mother. 

Despite his success with basketball, circumstances for Chennault have since changed. Following some difficulties in his personal life, he has found a new passion in film and giving back to his community, and has transitioned into a role model for young men and women with unrealized potential. He wants them to recognize that basketball is not the only vehicle towards upward social mobility. Since college, he has created a film company called 267 Productions, where he currently runs a short web series “Oldhead” on YouTube. 

This film highlights the beginnings of his efforts to make young people recognize the need to have a plan, to be realistic and to become well-rounded individuals. In fact, Chennault hopes to screen the film himself in schools alongside speaking engagements. He is a popular figure among these children and is using this influence for the greater good.

The film features interviews with the family of Chennault, Jay Wright and JayVaughn Pinkston, among others. Again, all of the efforts towards the creation of this documentary have been completed by students. It melds an artistic pursuit with the Villanova tradition of striving to better the community, in this way through education. Director Wright attests that “We have the ability to give people a voice and a platform to share their story when they normally wouldn’t have that opportunity.”

The film will be screened for free in the Connelly Cinema on Dec. 13 at 7:30 p.m.