A Chat with Barry Jenkins (click here for part two)
I don’t know how to phrase this, but…
Phrase it! [laughs]
Your film feels very personal, regardless as to…
It is personal.
It definitely feels personal, and it’s gotten a lot of good reviews and a
lot of play throughout the country. If that hadn’t happened, how would
you feel? It seems like it would be impossible not to take it personally.
[Medicine for Melancholy scored an 88% at Rotten Tomatoes.]
No. That’s exactly—I did not expect any of that to happen. I was completely sur-
prised as the year went on and more and more things happened, and a lot of the things that happened just happened by chance. I mean, I worked for the Telluride Film Festival, and I have for the last seven years, so I kind of know—I see from the inside how that system works. It’s all about connections, and we made a film with a group of people who no one knew. So actually, I didn’t think any of this stuff would happen, and would not have been the least bit disappointed if any of it hadn’t.
2002's Vendredi Soir (Friday Night)
Before we started making the film—it was literally just me and my friends, it
was really inexpensive, and it was more about proving that we could make a
film. One of the things that changed our expectations was the fact that Matt
Dentler, who at the time was the head of South by Southwest, found out a-
bout the movie from a blog. This guy, Sujewa [Ekanayake], who’s a blogger…
I recognize that name.
He was complaining about the mumblecore movement, and the fact that there were no filmmakers or characters of color, so one of my producers, who is white—beside myself, Wyatt, and Tracey, everyone involved with the film is white; they're kids I went to school with and we bonded because we worked on sets 18 hours together...
That sounds like Aaron Katz, who’s also been to Seattle, and went to the same school as David Gordon Green. He’s with the people he went to school with, and Green is with his people. If you meet people then, and you hit it off, you’re lucky.
The other thing, too, was that we started out talking about Darnell and Halle
Berry and Oprah, and I wrote this script and I decided I wanted to make it, and
I wrote some letters to those people and for whatever reason—sometimes very
good reasons or maybe [it was due to] their busy schedules—they just couldn’t
help me. Some of the people who would help me were my friends so, un-
doubtedly, that's who was going to help me make the film.
That almost gives you more to be proud of, though. You guys did it yourselves.
I’ve said all year that even if I’m not happy with the movie, I’m extremely proud of it. So yeah, Matt Dentler found a post that one of our producers put on Sujewa’s blog that said, “I’m a producer of a film by a minority filmmaker that’s a mumblecore film.” I would never call it mumblecore, but she referred to it as mumblecore…
Then Dentler wrote an email in response to her comment and said, “I hear you’re making a movie, and it sounds really interesting. Keep me posted.” And so, right away, it sort of put a bug in our ears, like, “Hey, maybe people will be interested.”
SXSW seems like a good place for your film to be seen, since it’s becoming
more and more important for independent films and first-time filmmakers.
Well, one of my motivators for the film—I always cite Claire Denis’s Friday Night
as being the inspiration for the actual scenario. The other motivator behind actual-
ly making the film was a friend of mine, Chris Wells, who was involved with Joe Swanberg's LOL. I worked with Chris Wells at the Telluride Film Festival. He work-
ed one year, and he didn’t come back the next year, and I was like, “Where did Chris go?” I heard, “Well, he made a movie with this guy Joe Swanberg.” And I was like, “What—Chris made a movie?” And so I looked it up, and there was “Joe Swan-
berg” and “mumblecore,” and I started reading about how they made the films.
You can’t stop him!
Exactly: a few friends, simple scenario, digital camera, and they all went to SXSW, so I said, “Shit! We’re gonna make a movie digitally, just a few of us, very simple, and we’re going to screen at SXSW.” And that was the only goal—that’s all we expected.
Click here for part four
Endnote: Images from Harvard Film Archive, indieWIRE, and Scarlett Cinema.