Today is a great day for Black Independent Cinema! RESTLESS CITY directed by Andrew Dosunmu is AFFRM’s 3rd release following the success of I WILL FOLLOW (dir. by Ava DuVernay) and KINYARWANDA (dir. by Alrick Brown). What is AFFRM, you ask?
AFFRM is the African-American Film Festival Release Movement, founded by filmmaker Ava DuVernay. To this day, I’m still kicking myself for missing RESTLESS CITY at the Urbanworld Film Festival screening last September but from the immediate buzz following the screening, I had a feeling it would surely catch the eye of a distributor. Luckily, my spidey sense was right and now the U.S. (and I) will get to watch what appears to be another prime example of the great director of photography, Bradford Young.
“Restless City tells the story of young, nomadic Senegalese immigrant, Djbirl (played by Sy Alassane), an aspiring musician, struggling to survive on the fringes of New York City. When he falls in love with a prostitute (Jamaican-born model/actress Nicole Grey) who works for Bekay, the local loan shark, he suddenly finds some much needed meaning and purpose to his otherwise aimless existence, forcing him to make decisions that eventually prove fatal.”
When I see a trailer like this, I immediately think about my film program and in particular, the times where one would have to light a scene. Seems simple enough if you know the proper techniques and have the right equipment, right? In the exercises, I always dreaded that I might get called on to be the “subject”. As my professor once said, if you have two actors and one is of darker skin tone, light that person first. She explained that the darker skin tone would require more light for exposure and it’s easier to take away light than to add it. As the “subject”, this just feels like an absolute spectacle. Everyone’s scrambling around you and silently cursing that there may never in fact be enough light to get the proper textbook setup. Why? Because in all my four years, there was 1 single course handout that even mentioned light various skin tones and that came from a Black professor. This rant is coming to a focus, I promise.
When I see a trailer like RESTLESS CITY, I WILL FOLLOW, PARIAH, or even going way back to Spike Lee Joints and EVE’S BAYOU, my hope is renewed. Black bodies can be lit just as beautifully, if not sometimes more than our fair-skinned counterparts.
When asked about his Sundance award-winning cinematography in Dee Ree’s PARIAH, Bradford Young goes further in detail about lighting Black actors in an article from EthioSun. Thankfully, he had a much more comprehensive education than I did.
When we discuss a plea many filmmakers seem to have photographing black actors, and how his work in Pariah seemed a cut above, Young says filming people of tinge has been a problem in American cinema, though that swell is being made.
“There’s been a opening where not a lot of work has been finished to make people of tinge demeanour (on screen) like we see them in a world,” he says.
Young is a connoisseur of Howard University where his coach was Haile Gerima, an Ethiopian-born, eccentric filmmaker (Teza, Bush Mama) who has won countless general awards. “He challenged us, finished us demeanour during a black classics, turn students of black art, novel and science,” Young says. “We looked during African art by a centuries… paintings, murals, sculptures. So a references on what skin tinge can demeanour like comes from art – Ethiopian church paintings and Nigerian textiles – not from an American cinema context.
I have no doubt that RESTLESS CITY will be another hit from Ava and everyone at AFFRM. The film will be released in NY, LA, and ATL on April 27, and then expand to Philly, Seattle, Detroit, Chicago and Washington DC on May 4. See you all at the theaters!