Film Independent is now accepting submissions for a 2015 Canon Filmmaker Award. We will select one filmmaker to receive a Canon Cinema EOS package loaned to his or her production. (Only Film Independent Fellows, Los Angeles Film Festival alumni and Spirit Awards nominees and winners are eligible.) Go to Canon Awards at filmindependent.org for more information and to apply. The application deadline is February 23.
Last quarter, the award went to 72 Hours: A Brooklyn Love Story, a quirky coming-of-age story of a young Black kid becoming a man in Brooklyn. He’s smart, has swagger for days and he’s got a high school sweetheart that he can’t bear to leave. With a full scholarship to college awaiting him, he’s scared and has 72 hours to make a decision.
This is the kind of film about Black life that we rarely get to see. On a small budget you need the right crew, the right camera and a lot of passion, which is why Film Independent was so proud to support 72 Hours with one of our 2014 Canon Filmmaker Awards.
I caught up with one of the producers of 72 Hours Vincent Harris (a Film Independent Fellow) and the film’s Director of Photography Shawn Peters less than a week after they wrapped principal photography. Vincent was still recovering from a winter shoot in New York, while Shawn called in from the hills of Kingston, Jamaica where it was 90 degrees and sunny.
Tell us about 72 Hours: A Brooklyn Love Story; How did the project come to fruition?
Vincent: The director and writer Raafi Rivero and I had worked together before. He helped me cut together a promo piece for another feature I’ve been trying to get off the ground. That film got pushed back but in my mind, I’d already prepared to be going into production, so I just decided to redirect that energy to another project. I just wanted to make a movie.
Raafi is a mentor for Reel Works (they teach high school students film storytelling). One of their students, Bilal N’Dongo, had made a seven minute mini-doc about a friend of his on an odyssey through Brooklyn to win the love of a girl in his neighborhood. Here was this 17-year-old kid pining over this girl—directly to camera! It was sweet. Totally relatable but definitely not an image we see often, young Black man as vulnerable and emotional, a little awkward. It was just a beautiful little film and I saw what Raafi saw. Reel Works had this idea that it should be made into a feature. They took a huge risk; this was something they had never done before—developing one of the shorts made in the program into a feature film.
Shortly after we teamed up we brought Shawn onboard. Here’s a cat whose credits are extensive. We were able to get him and several other really great people onboard which helped us fight in a higher weight class. It was a real blessing. I’m grateful to all of them.
The number of risks taken on this project cannot be overstated. This film is getting made because a lot of effort and good intention came together.
Why is it important that this story is told?
Shawn: No matter where I was or what I was doing I would have made time for this film. I can’t remember a Black film like this since…Do The Right Thing. It’s about when you’re a kid, you don’t know you’re poor and this film is set in the context of “so-called” poverty but it doesn’t point it out. It’s just about a young man’s coming of age, the women in his life and his self-determination.
Vincent: This film is about kids being kids. Unfortunately, when Black kids show up onscreen too often it’s in a criminal context. Or if not that, they’re hyper macho or hyper-sexualized. Rarely are they just kids. In this film they are.
What challenges did you face shooting in the winter in New York?
Shawn: (laughs) Challenging.
Vincent: Logistically it was easier to get gear in the fall/winter because no one else is really shooting. We shot a total of 15 days.
What is the visual look and feel you’re trying to achieve with this film and why did you want to shoot with Canon?
Shawn: We really wanted to make the film pop. Think of the French New Wave, Amelie and that quirky aesthetic. During the winter in NY the position of the sun is perfect. There’s a beautiful angle and the sun never gets too high. Because it’s winter, the trees are bare so Raafi and I used those architecturally. We shot in the projects in Brooklyn; so shooting 1:85 allowed me to really capture everything—starkness, cleanness, symmetry.
Most days were grey and overcast which allowed very even exposures each day. This was my first time shooting with the C500 but Raafi had used Canon a lot and really pushed for it. I am really happy with the results. It was perfect for our night shoots because on a small budget you don’t have a lot of light and I could go to ISO 2000 with no noise! But we also weren’t afraid of darkness and we really focused on making the subjects beautiful. Not to mention the Canon 30-300 is the best zoom I’ve used.
There seems to be a new wave of bold African-American voices that the industry is starting to pay attention to. What are your hopes for the future of cinema?
Vincent: I’ll be honest, it’s frustrating. It’s very difficult, but I’m encouraged. I hope it doesn’t fade.
Shawn: If you really think about it Black filmmakers haven’t been in the game that long. There was Oscar Micheaux and he was the only one. Then we had a wave of filmmakers in the 70’s–but let’s remember that a lot of the Blaxploitation films were made by white directors. Then Spike and Singleton came along in the late 80’s and 90’s.
What’s your advice for filmmakers trying to get a feature made?
Vincent: This may sound trite but I’m going to say it anyway: don’t give up. Find a project and get it done. I think Ava DuVernay said it best “just make something.” That’s it, just put your head down and work. I plan to make 30 movies with the 72 Hours crew.
Shawn: I would say find the most fantastic story you can imagine and make sure it’s universal because it needs to mean a lot to a lot of people.
Where are you now with the project and what’s next?
Vincent: We’re in post, preparing for festival submissions but ultimately we’re looking for distribution. We want this film to be seen!
Angel Kristi Williams / Artist Development Associate