It was an Instagram notification that alerted Elizabeth City State University (ECSU) Graduate Student, Tramar Pettaway, that he’d won the "Best Feature Film" category in a national film festival. 


“I was in rehearsal for a show at College of Albemarle and we were on break,” he said. “I happened to check my phone for something else and I saw a notification via Instagram, and I saw my film was picked. My main goal was to get my movie added to the list of movies playing (at the festival). I never imagined winning.”


But, he did win at the inaugural HBCU First Look Film Festival for his film "Footprints of an Angel.” The event’s theme was “A Celebration of Black Filmmakers Rooted in HBCU Culture” and served as an initiative focused on diversity and inclusion opportunities for HBCU students and graduates, who are creators and leaders in film, TV, and broadcast, according to the event website. 


The festival included sessions led by acclaimed HBCU alumni such as Academy Award-Winning Costume Designer Ruth E. Carter and Actress Terri J. Vaughn. In a promotional college tour to announce the festival earlier this year, organizers visited ECSU and Pettaway decided to enter his project into the contest. 


“At the time, my film was on the last stages of editing, so I thought ‘Hey, maybe I should submit my film,’” he said.


His intuition paid off and resulted in his work being showcased four times throughout the festival at Howard University. Other viewing options will be available at a later date. 


The movie itself, which includes a character played by Grammy Award Winner Chrisette Michele, is about young man named Teric being interviewed on his new book "Footprints of an Angel.” During the interview, Teric talks about growing up watching his mother Claudette, played by actress Julia Garrison, fight stage 4 cancer.


Pettaway, who also earned an undergraduate degree in Elementary Education from ECSU, said he’s hopeful the film will inspire others and that his win will encourage other filmmakers to take pride in their work and showcase it whenever possible. 


“My goal, honestly, was to get (the film) played in the film festival, but to win the category was a complete surprise,” he said. “I’m thankful for the HBCU Festival scouting creators of color and offering this type of avenue and exposure.”