I must admit, I feel like I’ve broken a cardinal rule of the Indie brother/sisterhood. I did in fact watch an independently released film in 7 parts via YouTube. Sigh. However, I defend my case as it was a 2008 film called MEDICINE FOR MELANCHOLY and I had been desperate to watch it since stumbling upon the trailer. Can you really blame me? The film was fantastic and totally worth it. But seriously, all guilt aside, I now recommend of course that all of you watch this amazing portrait of San Francisco starring a dynamic Black couple in the full day after their one night stand now streaming on Netflix Instant.
The film, written and directed by breakout Black filmmaker/San Fran transplant Barry Jenkins, has such raw grace in showcasing the city of San Fran, through images of the cityscape, critical dialogue and one scene in particular that seems to play out in beautiful, yet painful real-time about the political, racial and emotional structures of the gentrified metropolis. In this ARTSTREET MIAMI interview below, Jenkins reflects on his career and the origin of the film.
I really liked Jenkins’ use of the the term “regional filmmaking” in describing his do-it-yourself approach to filmmaking. I immediately connected to the creative concepts of “…representing American life in an authentic way” and “…using film as a cultural barometer to represent different places.”
It was great how Jenkins also brought up the past work of other artists whose cinema really has a distinct locality. Off the top of my head, I couldn’t help but think of the catalog of films by great 80’s director John Hughes.
I once had to complete a group research paper on the work of Hughes’ brat pack hits and quickly noticed each of his films during that time looked and felt all too similar. Almost every single one was set in Chicago. From BREAKFAST CLUB, FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF, HOME ALONE and everything in between, you could literally imagine that all of his tween white suburban protagonists lived on the same block in the Windy City. It’s as if every time Hughes used the popular city as backdrop in his cult classic films, he was saying “This place matters to me. This right here can be relatable to people who’ve never been here. You’ve seen LA and New York, but now you will know Chicago too.”
Like the way Jenkins offers a poetic San Francisco, Spike hearts Brooklyn, Ramin Bahrani channels both NYC and North Carolina and Hughes is synonymous with Chicago, we should all be so lucky to write film tributes to the cities we love.
As a non-New Yorker or Los Angelean, I’ve been trying to figure out where in the world my films (present and future) take place. I’ve lived in a medium-sized Florida city called Lakeland off-and-on for about 14 years and definitely feel places like it have been ignored in popular and indie cinema. Even if the backdrops are small or Southern towns, there was usually something missing. The films lack an insider perspective or back to Jenkins’ term of “regional filmmaking”. I think if your films truly take place in a world you know (your hometown or a city you love), it should ooze from the page of your script to the screen. The characters will walk, talk, exist in a unique state that could only be that city or town. Scenes and plot will feel organic to a particular block, street or neighborhood.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Los Angeles and NYC is fun to visit, but we’ve got 48 other states chockfull of suburbs, bustling metropolis, rural towns that aren’t even listed on maps and so much more. It’s about time we hear and see what they’re all about from the people who know them best.