If it hadn’t been for the pandemic, Lumiere Rostick would have never discovered the briefcase.
Rostick, 22, was soon to graduate from Elon University in North Carolina with dual degrees in strategic communications and cinema and television arts. The calendar was filling up with phone interviews with digital media sites in New York and networking calls with Elon alumni.
There was a planned trip to Los Angeles to talk with someone already in the industry. There were just a few more credits to earn before the next big step.
The coronavirus canceled it all, along with in-person classes for the remainder of Rostick’s final semester.
After returning home to Tampa, Rostick’s grandmother called. Rostick’s grandfather, who has dementia, had fallen again.
The elderly family members’ isolation had been a growing source of family stress, but suddenly, online classes meant Rostick wasn’t tethered to anything but a laptop. The new next step? Head to Griffin, Georgia for an extended stay with them, something Rostick had never done before.
“Nothing that happened in the last three months would have happened if not for COVID,” Rostick said.
After arriving in Georgia, Rostick, an aspiring documentarian, needed to shoot a short film about an object for a class assignment. Rostick considered a table that had been passed down through generations, and even an old blender.
Then Rostick stumbled on the briefcase. Rostick’s grandfather had carried it everywhere over decades as a truck driver. Inside were items that didn’t make sense at first: a collection of seemingly random business cards, a toy truck and old letters.
Rostick came to see the items as snapshots into her grandfather’s life, and explored that idea in a documentary short titled The Briefcase.
On Aug. 2, excerpts from The Briefcase and additional footage Rostick shot will be featured in the PBS special, Family of Us: A PBS American Portrait Story.
Rostick’s will be one of two main stories that the network says reveal “how we value our relatives now more than ever.” PBS American Portrait is a national project that asks people to submit their stories.
For Rostick, the items in the briefcase showed the grandchild things the grandfather could no longer talk about.
The old letters had been a correspondence with a woman over the course of 30 years. Rostick’s grandfather had picked up the woman, her son and her fiance when they were stranded by the side of the road, and given them a ride to a gas station.
“It feels weird to say I’m grateful for a global pandemic, but it has been an amazing opportunity in terms of reconnecting,” Rostick said. “I discovered my grandpa and I are really similar, and that we kind of get each other. I don’t think I would have recognized how close we could have been, and how close we kind of are, if it had not been for this dumpster fire of a situation.”
Rostick, who graduated from the International Baccalaureate program at Hillsborough High School, said the initial interest in documentary storytelling may have started with volunteering years ago at Feeding Tampa Bay’s Trinity Cafe.
“My favorite part was the conversations,” Rostick said. “I’d talk to this quote unquote homeless person, and I’d get in the car with my mom on the way home and be like, ‘Wow, this guy is a veteran, and he lived in Germany.' I realized people’s stories make the person, not their circumstances.”
Rostick said the goal now is just to be ready for whatever opportunity arises to tell those stories once the world begins moving again.
Family of Us: A PBS American Portrait Story
Aug. 3, 2:30 a.m. on WEDU, or available streaming Aug. 2 on PBS.org and the PBS Video App for iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, YouTube TV and Chromecast.