Saturday, May 23, 2009

He’s Gotta Have It: Part Four

A Chat with Barry Jenkins (click here for part three)

You weren’t looking at Sundance.

Oh, hell no. Hell no.

I’m glad you weren’t, and that’s not a criticism of Sundance. A lot of fantastic
films play there every year, but it’s just easy to get…lost. That’s the problem.

We just didn’t think we would get into Sundance.

And a lot of good films don’t.

Right. And a lot of good films don’t get into SXSW either. It’s just the festival game, you know? All this stuff is about taste, and it’s not that your movie is bad; it just doesn’t fit the taste of the programmers. There’s a festival for every film. I definitely know that for a fact, because I’ve been to a lot of them this year. So our only goal was to get into SXSW, to follow the mumblecore model, and then go to a few regional festivals. And a few things happened. The first thing was, we sent the movie to bloggers on the heads of the SXSW film festival, and we got a couple of really positive reviews from the bloggers. Karina Longworth at Spout wrote a great review, Mike at Twitch wrote a good review, and Michael Tully at Hammer to Nail wrote a good review also, and so we got to SXSW, and people were like, “What’s this little indie...?”

NBC's Friday Night Lights

I had heard about your film really early on, and it made me want to see it.

Oh, that’s awesome. So, when we were at SXSW, we got our first two screenings, and again we’re learning as we go on to talk to the other filmmakers, and they were like, “Who’s seen your movie?” And we said, “I don’t know.” And they said, “You’ve got to get press. You’ve got to get festival people to see your film.” We had one last screening, so we went through the book, because SWXW lists all the people attending, and we emailed or left voice mail for every person who was from a film festival or [listed] as press, and this woman from the Toronto Film Festival returned one of my calls, and she said, “Hey, I’m glad you guys called me, but I’m pretty tired. My festival is done, I’m too far outside of town. I can’t make it. And my producer, Justin goes, “We’ll pick you up.” And she was like, “Wow.” She thought it was so sweet that we were willing to come pick her up, and she was like, "All right, I’ll come and see your film,” and she loved it, so we got offered to screen at Toronto. Again it was just as random as us calling this woman that got us into Toronto, and little things like that continued to happen, so it wasn’t that we were planning these things, we were just always trying to do extra work, and good things came out of it.

Toronto is about as big as it gets. I was amazed
by it—there’s no way you can see all the films.

[I attended the festival in 1999 and 2000.]

It’s impossible.

And it’s not like, “Oh well, who cares about that film.” You’re literally missing some of the very films you came there to see—it’s that kind of festival. I guess we should go back a little bit, because you mentioned that you went to film school with someone in the audience [at the NWFF] who was from Florida. Are you from Florida?

[The year I planned to see Ghost Dog in Toronto, the screening sold out.]

I’m from Florida, born and raised.

You have a slight accent—it comes and goes. I wasn’t sure where the ac-
cent originated, but I thought it was from somewhere in the Southeast.

Yeah, I was born and raised in Miami. I was a jock in high school.
I was a very, you know, an inner-city kid. It was a straight-forward,
simple, four-block childhood. I played football, I loved football.

I haven’t met very many filmmakers who could say that. [laughs]

You know what? You’d be surprised. There are quite a few of us. Benh Zeitlin, who did the short film—the name escapes me—a great film set in New Orleans, it’s absolutely beautiful—Glory at Sea. He’s a football fanatic, an even bigger football fan than I am. I like college and high school football, but this guy is like totally a nut.

Do you watch Friday Night Lights?

I don’t watch the TV show, but I watched the feature, and actually, I was a little bit upset with the feature. It made me write—I’ve already written my own high school football movie that's about my childhood growing up as a counterpoint to Friday Night Lights. But you always see these films, and they’re about these rural, small-town football teams, but when you get to the NFL, the municipality with the most football players in the NFL is Miami-Dade County, and most of the major stars in the NFL, the position players, come from these really tough, sort of inner-city enclaves, but you never see that story told in films. They’re always small, rural teams.

That’s true.

So I want to make this movie. But anyway, that’s totally a side note.

You should. I’ve always assumed—I don’t know the story behind Friday Night Lights—but in the show, it’s Dillon, TX. It’s either filmed in or inspired by Odessa.

[Peter Berg based his movie on H.G. Bissinger’s 2004 novel Friday Night Lights.]

I think it’s based on Odessa, the Permian Panthers. It was a best-
selling novel that was done by this journalist who lived down there.

I assumed they were also influenced by the documentary Go Tigers!

No, not at all.

Because there’s a similar feel to the show.

Well, it’s the same story over and over again. Go Tigers! was set in Ohio, which is
still not another football-rich state. I get very nationalist when it comes to football.

You have to make your movie then, because football is usually seen as the province of mainstream people like Oliver Stone or Jerry Bruckheimer, who produced Remember the Titans. There have also been comedies, like The Longest Yard remake, although the original wasn’t really a comedy. I just watched it for the first time.

I was actually just watching The Gridiron Gang in the hotel.

The old football movies were different.

Very different. Wildcats—remember that, with Goldie Hawn as the football coach?

I was in a bar recently where it was on in the back-
ground, so I can’t really say I’ve seen it. Is it good?

Yeah, it’s funny. They should remake that movie—I can’t believe I just said that!

Click here for part five

Endnote: Images from Film in Focus and As Far as You Know.

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