One of my most personally rewarding programming choices for SXSW 2008, was having the debut of Barry Jenkins’ Medicine For Melancholy at the festival. I randomly read about the film-in-progress on a blog, contacted Barry, and he wasn’t gonna be done with the film in time for our deadline. He sent me some clips, though, and I asked him to please send me the rough cut a few weeks after the deadline. He did, and I loved the finished product. When the film premiered at SXSW earlier this month, it struck a real chord with audiences and I think it’s safe to say that it will be a regular fixture on the 2008 festival circuit (there are already scheduled screenings at San Francisco, Sarasota, Philadelphia, and Boston fests). For Premiere, Aaron Hillis sat down with Jenkins over some Tex-Mex and they chatted about the directorial debut as well as Jenkins’ taste in film:
PREMIERE: For better or worse, how do you feel about modern black cinema today?
JENKINS: I think, for better, there are definitely more black filmmakers getting films made. For worse, those films continue to fall into two or three sorts of stereotypes, I would say. There’s the hood flick, the comedy, and then at one point, we went from hood cinema to “buppie” cinema, the black yuppie cinema. So there’s a whole segment of the African-American experience that isn’t being told. It’s definitely one of the reasons why I made Medicine for Melancholy. You never want to go into making a film with that sort of reasoning, but I can’t deny that was a part of it. I felt like there are African-Americans who are middle class, in the arts scene, or who are hipsters, or who ride bikes. I can’t think of a film I’ve seen that has black characters riding bikes.
PREMIERE: Is there anyone who has consciously influenced your filmmaking and subject matter?
JENKINS: Definitely. Claire Denis is a big influence on me. Actually, I got the idea for the film when I first saw Vendredi Soir [a/k/a] Friday Night a few years ago, just the idea of dramatizing a one-night stand, what Claire Denis did in that film. I thought, for my generation, it would be more interesting to have the characters follow each other the morning after because they wouldn’t have the emotional restraint to leave it at a one-night stand. From a filmmaking standpoint, I think she’s amazing; the level of metaphor her films arrive at, despite the fact that she’s a very bare bones, what I call “nuts-and-bolts” filmmaker. You know, her films aren’t what I would call stylish. I mean, they are, but it’s a very strange style. I look at my film and it’s not the case at all. Your influences don’t have to [inform] your aesthetic, but when I approach a film, I think of Claire Denis, Lynne Ramsay and Lucrecia Martel. It’s weird, but I basically love female filmmakers. And who’s to say you can tell what a female filmmaker is by watching their films, but that’s been the case with me.