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Tuesday, October 14, 2008

7 Questions With Director Barry Jenkins....

A little while back, I wrote a review of a small film making big noises called "Medicine For Melancholy" here, which is a 24 hour love story between two seeming opposites, both black. The writer and director of that film, Barry Jenkins, was in attendance at the screening and was gracious and warm to all that approached him. He had the same graciousness when I asked to interview him for 7 Questions, and the warmth and thoughtfulness that seem to be part of his make-up come across in his answers....his views are quite refreshing. He also offers some inspiration for aspiring filmmakers, as well as giving the readers of this blog new bright hope for Black Cinema's near future. Check it.

Question #1

Your film, "Medicine For Melancholy" is a cool, clean drink of water for those of us dying of thirst for something different in Black Cinema. What has been the response from your Black viewers? Is there a difference in the responses from your non-Black audience?

First of all, thank you for that. I'm from the South, so believe me I know how good a cool, clean drink of water can feel on a hot afternoon! This film has only played at film festivals, which…to me a film festival viewer is different than an average viewer at the multiplex. I feel at film festivals the audience is truly there to support the filmmaker, they go into a screening hoping, wanting to love the film. So in that respect, I have to say across the board the response to the film has been overwhelmingly positive, regardless of race, class, gender, etc.

That said, the response from folks of color, particular black folks, has been undoubtedly passionate. By passionate I mean I've signed the back of ticket stubs, posed for photos, given long, warm hugs, signed program booklets; I've been messaged on MySpace and Facebook these sincere thoughts about the film and how it's made people feel. And I am not exaggerating at all when I say that ninety-five percent of those incidents have come from black folks.

Question #2

What was your goal when making this film? Was there a message you were trying to put across?

I think there are many different types of filmmakers, but there are two types in particular I reference when it comes to this question:

1) Those who have a definitive point of view and create a film to present that point of view.
2) Those who have a question and create a film to investigate that question.

To me, this film and myself fall decidedly in the second group, which is a way of saying there was no particular message I was trying to put across in making the film. The two characters represent two different sides of a discussion, and I tried to be very careful to not give more weight to one or the other. The questions that arise during the film are addressed but not answered. As a chronicling of 24 hours in the lives of two people, you can only resolve those issue so far in this film.

Question #3

How were you able to fund your film? What were your biggest challenges? Any advice for those wanting to go the same route?

The film was funded first and foremost at the screenplay stage. When writing the script, I made sure to set it in places that I knew we'd have access to, that would require minimal lighting and simple set pieces. It was monetarily funded by my friend Justin Barber, paid for entirely by the money he earns doing special effects/animation work on DVDs. Basically, the Ocean's 13 DVD special features menu paid for Medicine For Melancholy. Justin owns this movie outright...or rather he used to own it before we sold to IFC.

This movie was shot with a four-person crew on an obsolete camera (Panasonic HVX) and edited on a laptop. The means to make films is out there for anyone with enough friends and skill to utilize them. The biggest challenge was and always will be deciding to "just do it." It seems cheesy to say it, but the truth of that statement is why Nike's slogan has stood the test of time.

Question #4

Do you see us as making any inroads and having successes in Hollywood as far as Black Cinema goes? What is your perspective on the state of Black Hollywood?

I'm so glad you asked this question. Due to the success of this film, I've been spending more time in Hollywood and what I've found has been pleasantly surprising. All over town, there are young folks of color making their way up the ranks, holding executive positions at many of the major studios and production companies. I lived in LA five years ago and this was not the case. As these folks work their way up through the ranks, I think you'll begin to see more interesting work by and about people of color coming out of Hollywood. It's an amazing thing that's happening from the inside out, which to me is the final piece of the puzzle that's always been missing.

Just last week, I watched the 2nd debate between Obama and McCain in an apartment in LA filled with young execs of color (and some absent that color!) from all different aspects of the Hollywood game. If what I saw that night was any example, the future is bright.

Question #5

A subject that comes up here quite often is the dissatisfaction with what "The Hollywood Machine" is producing in the way of Black Cinema. What, in your opinion, can the public at large do to change things? (Everyone gets asked this question, btw)

This one is simple: One ticket, one vote. Every time you go to the multiplex, the powers that be take note. In fact, the Hollywood machine is completely driven by box office. When a movie like Talk To Me or Miracle At St. Anna tanks, many, MANY people take note. And to be honest, this is no different than when a movie like The Wackness or The Door In The Floor tanks. To them, it's all dollars and cents. If World War II movies about folks of color made money, Hollywood would have no problem pumping them out; it's all about the bottom line. Tyler Perry (and this not in anyway a critique of those films) is a perfect example. Dollars and cents.

I always go back to the Rosewood/Booty Call example. They came out on back-to-back weekends. A whole lot of people went to see one. Not very many the other. Hollywood took note.

Question #6

What projects do you have coming up in the future?

I'm working on a few different things, all of which are nothing like Medicine and hopefully involve us getting paid to exercise our craft. I've done nothing but SPEND money to make Medicine For Melancholy. If folks want to know what it takes to realize an indie film, that's it in a nutshell. I have nothing but debt to show for this film. And a whole hell of a lot of PRIDE.

For the record, I definitely come out on top in that deal.

Question #7

Any thoughts you would like to relay to the readers?

Yeah, MUCH THANKS for reading this. And by this I don't mean this interview, but rather this blog. Much thanks for taking the time to get on the net and find resources like this blog, The Obenson Report, Hammer to Nail, Indiewire, all these resources that help plug us all into the same cycle. Medicine For Melancholy would not have had the success it's had were it not for people blogging about it, doing the work of pointing it out to readers. It's a cycle that keeps on giving. I made the point of "one ticket, one vote" above. Building awareness of smaller films like ours via the web is no different.

I'm very grateful to have your eyes on that computer screen right now, so...


From IW: No, thank you. Loves it! I expect great things from this brother. If you'd like to more about his film, Medicine For Melancholy, check the link It will be on the IFC Channel soon....until then, here is a clip:

And here is a clip of Barry giving a short chat about the movie:


Invisible Hand said...

Thanks for posting this interview IW. I've been VERY interested in this movie since learning about it a few months back. I know well the struggles of getting a black independent movie with "no stars" out into the marketplace. I wish Barry all the luck in the world.

Qadree said...

I'm glad you had a chance to see this film. I think back to films like Love Jones, that were generally like by people, and it's so disappointing to see that it's not even available on DVD anymore. If people don't support the films they will disappear, just like Barry said.

I don't know if it's been mentioned here, but I just received a DVD for a doc called Angels Can't Help but Laugh.

Check the site for details. I though it was very sobering to just see these women talk about their experiences. I know some of these actresses get ridiculed in the media and I think this cuts through a lot of that and just shows them as people trying to find solutions to many of the problems that are discussed on this blog.

Anonymous said...

TERRIFIC FILM! A film that gives me hope that there really is a real future for black cinema

Anonymous said...

Finally something new and refreshing, I can't wait to see this film and the Secret Life of Bees...

Anonymous said...

For a second, I thought that was a picture of me up there! Had to do a double-take.

Props to Monsieur Jenkins!

I still owe the film a review, by the way. Where is my theatrical release? What's IFC doing? The tough questions I.W.... the tough questions! :o)

Wonder Man said...

Nice stuff, we need good black films

Carla said...

It's a fabulous film--as a black San Franciscan I was one of those souls who blogged about it--thanks so much for the interview.

Faith at Acts of Faith Blog said...

Well there's a lot of stories that people want to tell that don't get greenlit that would make money as well. It's not just about money. Brad Pitt was touted as an A list for years despite flop after flop. This doesn't address white supremacy or how young Black children are being trained to accept degradation by the media, why there's a dearth of projects written/produced/directed by Black women either.

But since I live in SF I look forward to seeing this film and I can certainly appreciate his drive and positivity. It really helps to have support, resources and access when we need it!

Invisible Woman said...

@invisiblehand: let me know what you think when you see it...i'd really like to hear

@qadree: i've never heard of that film; thanks for the info, another one to look up today!

@sergio: me too

@MGV: i'm on the fence about secret life... leaning more toward not seeing it. i would love to hear your thoughts when you see it

Invisible Woman said...

@wuexplode: you are too funny! lol
but you are so right, i really shoulda asked...hopfefully he'll read these comments and let us know--you there Barry?

@wonderman: that's for sure

@carla: hi there :-) i looked at your blog, very nice--and i see that we know a couple of the same folkses...i looked for your view on MFM but couldn't find it--do you have a link?

@faith: agreed--i am constantly mystified by the nicole kidman/a-list factor as well...when was the last time she was in a decent or moneymaking film?

i really like your blog; hoping that you will start updating what would claire huxtable do :-)

Karen said...

This movie looks really good! Nice interview.

Invisible Woman said...

@ solshine: You gots ta see it :-)

Barry Jenkins said... of right now IFC is talkin' a February release.

It's not set in stone and we're still goin' on about it but given that February's a) Black History Month and b) Valentine's day, I don't doubt that they mean it =)

Would have replied sooner but I'm overseas with the movie at London and Vienna, limited access to the net.

As always, MUCH THANKS!

Invisible Woman said...

Thanks, Barry. I'll mention it on my blog, fo' sho.

Enjoy Europe and all the best!