Web Finds: Visual Storytelling

Spike Lee & the dolly shot:

A quick introduction to Barron Claiborne:

First, watch the short below, then read its description on YouTube and this Wikipedia page:

Web Finds: B&W Photography, “Beasts…” Trailer, & More

Film
Neil Drumming is working on his feature film debut and documenting the process on the Atlantic.

Bradford Young mentioned Touki Bouki as inspiration for Restless City.  Check out Basia Cumming’s review of the film.

Beasts of the Southern Wild has been on my radar for a minute now and the trailer has finally arrived!  This short from Beasts director, Benh Zeitlin seems to be where the story started:

Literary
Want to get close to some of the greats in contemporary African literature?  Farafina Creative Writing Workshop is now accepting applications!

Tayari Jones reviews Toni Morrison’s new novel, Home.

Other
Amazing photos from an old, gritty New York City.

This amazing photograph from Teju Cole:
Lagos, November 2011

Medicine for Melancholy

Watch a film multiple times and you can expect to see something new in each viewing.  I’ve seen Theodore Witcher’s Love Jones an uncountable amount of times – I’ve moved past the stage of seeing new things into reciting the lines in sync with characters. Baby, you ain’t got to save mine for later, I’d rather have it right now.  Nina we’ve already done it before…repeatedly!  It’s my go-to movie when I’m in need of a heavy dose of romanticized love.

However, when I’m in need of something a little more relatable, I turn to Medicine for Melancholy – Barry Jenkins’ feature film debut that was released in 2009.  I own it on DVD and have seen it about six times with others and on my own.  I’ll never get enough of the beautiful images of San Francisco, Wyatt Cenac’s quirkiness, or the film’s amazing soundtrack.  I’ve probably noticed something new in each viewing of the film, but it was during the last one that I felt something new.

No I love this city, I hate this city but I love this city.  San Francisco is beautiful…You shouldn’t have to be upper middle class to be a part of that. – Micah

I could write for days about my love for NYC, but I could do the same about my hate for this city.  I love that NYC has given me so much access to different cultural experiences and that a car doesn’t have to figure into that; but I absolutely hate some of the rude thoughts and behaviors I’ve developed towards the elderly and other slow-moving people on crowded sidewalks.  I love that with $30 and a few hours to spend, I can make a round-trip to Philadelphia, Boston, or Washington D.C.  I hate that because Manhattan is so expensive to live in, a bus ride to Philadelphia takes almost the same amount of time as my commute to work.

While NYC’s fast-paced rudeness is in direct opposition to the more laid-back ways of San Francisco, the dating scenes of the two cities seem to be similar:

Is it any surprise that folks of color in the scene date outside their race…everything about being indie is all tied to not being black…People call it interracial dating but there’s nothing interracial about it, nine out of ten times it’s somebody of color hanging on to a white person  – Micah

It was shortly after this statement that I felt Micah’s loneliness for the first time and I empathized because I’ve been there.  I grew up in a city that, from my vantage point, might as well be 99.9% black.  Call me naïve, but I never anticipated living anywhere with demographics so different from my hometown.  I was completely unprepared to live in cities that are similarly segregated but with fewer black people.  It’s not that I didn’t have exposure to non-black people growing up, but in my new surroundings I had to re-examine my ability to navigate interracial relationships.  I worked jobs where I had to process the undertones of racism alone.  I met black women and men who had no problem identifying as black but felt no need to be connected to other black people; and this crazy idea that black women struggle in trying to partner with black men became a reality.

So I feel like I’m seeing myself on-screen as I watch Micah go from an angry rant about interracial dating to begging JoAnne to stay with him, if only for one more night.  I’ve been there.  I used to rant to no end about how black men in New York City hated themselves and were only seeking women with physical characteristics that I do not have and refuse to obtain.  It was only after a friend checked me about my complaining that I eventually got to my truth: I miss black men.

When I left home, I left all of the men that I love the most: my father, my brother, and the friends I’ve made throughout the years.  In an attempt to fill the spaces that Skype and phone conversations can’t replace, I, like Micah, tried to hold on to the few black men I met regardless of our compatibility or their availability.  I’ve since realized that relationships built over years cannot easily be replicated in such a short period of time, especially in a city as transient as NYC.

There are so many layers to learning how to survive “the big city.”  If there is one thing I absolutely love about New York City, it’s the lessons in relationships and emotional maturity I’ve learned.

Creativity Crush: Bradford Young

Though I have mixed feelings about Restless City, I have much respect for the film’s cinematographer, Bradford Young. Check him in out this video:

We use jazz…as a mantra on how we want to make films…the collective responsibility of how you cannot make jazz alone.  And that is sort of what we are trying to bring to the table of filmmaking. – Bradford Young

How can I not have a crush? The analogies to Jazz. The focus on the idea of collaboration and community. The mentions of his inspiration. He’s talking about his work and never says “I”.  Amazing.

More about Mr. Young:
His Website
His Vimeo Page

On My Radar: Deluge

In the same way that I’m intrigued by stories and mythology about African people flying, our connection to water is a mystery that resonates with me.

From Nijla Mu’min (I linked to her poem in Web Finds, here):
This film, which centers on Tiana, a 14-year-old girl, who after witnessing the mass drowning of her friends is introduced to an aquatic underworld in the wake of the tragedy. This film is a mixture of coming-of-age drama, magical realism, and realism and will be shot in and around New Orleans.

The film is currently in pre-production and raising funds on IndieGoGo.

Also, check out this blog post from Nijla about a recent experience while location scouting.

Stones in the Sun

History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.1

Patricia Benoit’s feature film debut, Stones in the Sun, is a beautifully sad story that sheds an intimate light on Haitian emigration to the United States. The film shows 3 relationships, split by political turmoil in Haiti as they are reunited in New York. Though all of the characters have experienced trauma rooted in the same source, they struggle with understanding each other’s pain.

Young Lovers
Tambay’s prediction that we’d see something like Edwidge Danticat’s collection of short stories, entitled The Dew Breaker was spot on. The first pair we are introduced to are a young, married couple whose story resembles, but does not replicate that of the couple we meet in Danticat’s Seven. The young man, a livery cab driver in Brooklyn, had just become a member of an electoral board in Haiti when the military came looking for him. He was able to escape their violence but unknowingly left his wife unprotected from it.

Two Sisters
When Yannick, played by Edwidge Danticat, shows up at her older sister’s home one night, she does so with no luggage. Without going to deep into her political activism, she explains to her curious niece that travelling light was a consequence of rushing to escape the “bad people” who were after her. Yannick’s sister doesn’t appreciate this honesty, as she’s invested a lot in actively denying her traumatic experiences in Haiti — experiences she tried to shield her younger sister from and now would like to shield her daughter from.

A Father and Son
Wòch nan dlo pa konnen doule woch nan soley2. These first words of the film, are uttered by Gerald, a radio show host in Brooklyn. With his progressive politics, Gerald uses his show to inform Brooklyn’s Haitian community about the day-to-day political situation in Haiti. However when his father arrives from Haiti, he’s forced to confront some of his hidden personal history and the realities of a family with members on opposing political sides.

A cinematic history lesson, Stones in the Sun shows how political forces can affect us in the most intimate ways. It’s a moving story that touched me on so many levels. I walked away from the film with inspiration and more questions for my writing, inspiration for intimacy, and more knowledge of Haitian history and Haitian-U.S. relations. (I plan on sharing more about this on my personal blog).

There are plans for more festival screenings of the film with the goal of distribution, so hopefully this film will be viewed by a wider audience. I’ll be watching the film’s Facebook page for updates.

1from James Joyce’s Ulysses; quoted by Yannick in Stones in the Sun
2Stones in the water don’t know the suffering of stones in the sun

On My Radar: Faire L’Amour

At the end of the the post-screening Q&A of Donoma, Djinn Carrénard let us know that he would begin shooting his next feature length film as soon as he returned to France.  Like Donoma, the new film would be on the topic of love but more so focused on the day-to-day aspect of love and how couples can grow to hate each other.

I’m in!

Now from Cineuropa (via Shadow & Act), we get a more detailed synopsis:

Oussmane is a musician losing his hearing in a loveless relationship with Laure, an air hostess desperately trying to get pregnant. Kahina is a young woman doing time in a prison somewhere in Ile de France who gets leave for a week to spend Christmas with her four-year-old daughter. Oussmane and Kahina will fall in love during this week on leave, clinging on to each other with the passion of their instinct to survive. Kahina can’t see her daughter, Kahina falls in love, Kahina has to return to prison.

Restless City

When I first saw Hype Williams’ Belly, I considered it one of the best movies of the time.  It featured my childhood crush, Nas, and it had scenes lit in blue and shot from crazy angles.  It was one of the most visually enticing films of my youth.  In college, a friend introduced me to the tragedy that is Belly: “that was just a long ass music video.”

Damn, he was right.

To this day I still have love and respect for Hype Williams and Belly but the reality is that in my initial, immature viewing of the film, I overlooked the flaws of the story.

Fast forward more than a decade from Belly‘s release, I’m still a sucker for appealing visuals but I also value being drawn into a film with a good storyline and well-developed characters.

So when I first saw the trailer for Restless City, the visuals had me hooked but I also acknowledged that the I didn’t get a feel for the story without reading the written synopses.

Restless City director, Andrew Donsunmu, has quite a few creative titles associated with his name including fashion photographer and music video director.  I have no doubt he knows the value of visuals in telling stories and evoking emotions.  Paired with cinematographer Bradford Young, I had huge expectations of what I would get from Restless City.  Just check these clips that were released in advance of the film’s opening night:

Unfortunately, after all of this visual seduction, I was a bit disappointed when I walked out of the screening.  I thought the visuals were amazing but the story seemed to be lacking so much.  I didn’t feel at all connected to it or moved by it.  I appreciate quiet movies (Medicine for Melancholy and Donoma are two recent ones that come to mind), but the story was far too quiet and too subtle for me to really feel anything.

In the hours following the screening, I couldn’t stop thinking about my failure to connect, especially given all of the positive reactions the film received.  Was my disappointment actually a projection of my idea of how a story should be told?  Was the positive response to the film, a desperate need to see an alternative view of blackness on the big screen?  Maybe I should give it another chance and go see it with absolutely no expectations.

Then I read Britni Danielle’s interview with Donsunmu.  First, he shares some swoon-worthy comments about not making films in Hollywood:

I haven’t actually tried to get a film made in Hollywood… my world exists outside of that machine, for now. I have one main responsibility: to explore the depths of people, for better or worse. I want to go deeper into what makes us tick, what makes us laugh, cry, grow, grieve, evolve

I definitely respect him for what he sees as his responsibility and his rejection of Hollywood even if it’s just “for now.”

As the interview continues, he describes what he wants viewers to get out of Restless City:

I would like viewers of RESTLESS CITY to just see themselves in the characters, to feel a sense of familiarity with the story, to be curious about how it continues after the last frame. I would like viewers to feel at home in the story, to see my NY, and to understand the nuances of the NY they may never look at closely.

Now I’m back to being confused because Donsunmu’s comments suggest that he expects viewers to view this film in the same we do with other films told in a traditional manner.  So I guess I wasn’t projecting my ideas of how a story should be told.

I had no curiosity about how the story continues after the last frame; however, the film did inspire thoughts about the unique experiences of African immigrants in NYC.  I’ve always been curious about the vendors on 125th St, on Canal St, and in Koreatown.  And given my experiences in African communities in the southern U.S., I’ve always been envious of the more developed African communities in NYC; I’ll credit Restless City for showing me some of the drawbacks and grittiness of this “development.”

I know as artists, our craft is constantly developing and evolving.  So while I’m unsure if I will go see Restless City again in theater, I’m definitely going to look out for future works of Donsunmu as his craft continues to evolve.  If anything, Restless City gave me enough of a taste for that.

On My Radar: Boneshaker

From the film’s site: Boneshaker follows a Ghanaian immigrant family taking a road trip to a Pentecostal church in Louisiana to cure their violent daughter. As the family journeys to a tent revival at the ends of the levee-less Louisiana delta, they discover the complications of trying to perform a traditional ritual away from home. Boneshaker focuses on the feelings of homelessness, landlessness, and rootlessness that accompany immigration.

More:
the video for the Kickstarter campaign that funded the film and
an interview with the director, Frances Bodomo.

I’m ready for this.

P.S. If you’re a Miranda July fan, check out this other short from Frances Bodomo: