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Indie Film 'Black Hat' gives nod to Louisiana's Cassie England

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For those unaware, filmmaker Robbie Bryan is in the pre-production process for Black Hat, a film currently being crowdfunded on Seed&Spark. Bryan was approached by a producer in search of a story involving a teenaged girl. After some research, Bryan found his way to the world of anime, and started collecting interviews with members of the Cheshire Anime Club in Connecticut. The passion and dedication of the club's members inspired Bryan, and he began his journey into anime fandom.

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Black Hat is the resulting screenplay. It's a story about a high school outcast with a deep interest in dark Japanese anime. Her passion for drawing jump-starts her desire to submit her art to Louisiana convention contest, “Cajun Anime-tion.” The event is meant to bring emerging artists' manga into a famous Japanese director's feature film.

Baton Rouge resident Cassie England, though unknown to Bryan at the time, was the epitome of Black Hat's main character, Dandi. England, 16, was an artist who frequented anime conventions, where she shared her work with professional comic artists.

Last month, however, Cassie succumbed to her lifelong struggle with a rare genetic skin disease. Her father, Logan England, told reporters that the professional artists at conventions always commended and encouraged Cassie's talents. Despite the knowledge that her disease was fatal, Cassie continued to pursue her dream to attend college in Tokyo and become a manga artist.

Bryan discovered Cassie's heartbreaking story when one of the project's contributors—a mutual friend of whom Bryan and England were both unaware—donated $500 to the project for the right to have a character in the film named after Cassie.

Bryan contacted Cassie's father and decided he needed to make her an integral part of the movie. He met up with Cassie's family last weekend on a locations scout, and the group ended up attending the New Orleans Comic Con together. The convention was meant to be a celebratory weekend for Cassie's 17th birthday, coming up on March 6.

“Cassie England” will be Dandi's best friend, a prom queen struggling with popularity and watching Dandi get bullied for her passionate interests in anime. As Cassie herself was often bullied for her genetic condition, her life and strength mirror the central themes in Black Hat. As Bryan states in his fundraising video, “The message of the movie is 'anti-bullying.' It's about being creative and having fun, being yourself. It's my hope that this film will inspire people to live life the way they're happiest.”

During his research, Bryan became fascinated by the people in anime fandom. He noted that while it's full of shy people, the atmosphere and enthusiasm bring them out of their shells and fuel self-confidence.

Black Hat's campaign has just over a week left to raise nearly $350,000. If that goal is met, the project aims to film this summer. Jodelle Ferland (Twilight, Silent Hill) is cast as the film's lead, Dandi Chiapetta, and Bryan hopes to bring Harry Potter's Michael Gambon aboard as the grandfather Dandi enlists to join her on her journey.

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