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Sundance ’10 | Director Tanya Hamilton’s “Night Catches Us” Cuts Close to Home

Sundance '10 | Director Tanya Hamilton's "Night Catches Us" Cuts Close to Home

Director and writer Tanya Hamilton has nabbed some big industry names for her debut “Night Catches Us”. The film stars Anthony Mackie (riding high on the success of “The Hurt Locker”), Independent Spirit Award nominee Kerry Washington, and features original music by The Roots.

In the summer of ’76, as President Jimmy Carter pledges to give government back to the people, tensions run high in a working-class Philadelphia neighborhood where the Black Panthers once flourished. When Marcus returns—having bolted years earlier—his homecoming isn’t exactly met with fanfare. His former movement brothers blame him for an unspeakable betrayal. Only his best friend’s widow, Patricia, appreciates Marcus’s predicament, which both unites and paralyzes them. As Patricia’s daughter compels the two comrades to confront their past, history repeats itself in dangerous ways.

“Night Catches Us” masterfully reckons with the complexity of its characters’ revolutionary ideologies and internal desires. Bell-bottoms, Afros, potlucks, and Caddies set the scene as the film potently interweaves political media with an evocative soul-inspired score, summoning a vivid sense of place and time. The golden light that bathes characters’ faces seems to express the promise—and elusiveness—of the necessary change Marcus and Patricia struggle for so dearly—each by separate means. [Synopsis courtesy of the Sundance Film Festival]

“Night Catches Us”
U.S. Dramatic Competition
Director: Tanya Hamilton
Screenwriter: Tanya Hamilton
Cast: Anthony Mackie, Kerry Washington, Jamie Hector, Wendell Pierce, Jamara Griffin
Producers: Ron Simons, Sean Costello, Jason Orans
Composer: Music composed and performed by The Roots
Cinematographer: David Tumblety
Editors: Affonso Gonçalves, John Chimples
Production Designer: Beth Mickle
90 minutes

Director and screenwriter Tanya Hamilton on becoming a filmmaker and her film “Night Catches Us”…

I’m originally from Jamaica and grew up in Maryland after I came to this country when I was eight. I was a painter for a long time, then I started making short films when I was in undergrad at Cooper Union. It was a natural progression, really. As a painter I loved to tell stories, and as a filmmaker and writer I do the same thing in a more explicit, but no less artful, way.

My mother’s close friend, a woman who helped rear me, was one of several young people who in 1965 organized a sit-in at the White House in protest of the violence in Selma, Alabama. The sit-in only lasted a few hours. They were carted out the back and each given a one-year jail sentence. But the impact of that day reverberated through her life forever. I was always interested in how that single event influenced her life, career choices, politics and loves. “Night Catches Us” takes its inspiration from this. I endeavored to write about people like her who have returned from a war—in this case, the aftermath of the Black Panther Party movement—and are trying to outrun their past.

Director Tanya Hamilton. Image courtesy of the Sundance Film Festival.

I love to collaborate; film is a magical medium that offers ample opportunity for it. I think it’s important to gather the most talented people available and inspire their input into a project. It’s my vision that each film I make, when finished, becomes the collective language of all my collaborators.

Hamilton’s biggest challenge in bringing her film to the screen…

Financing. It was hard to get people to see the value of a film like this AND to put money behind it. It took us over ten years to get it made.

What Hamilton hopes audiences will take away from her film…

I hope the experience of this film offers viewers a peek into a world underrepresented on screen — a vision of the American Black Panther Party that I knew and isn’t often shown. Additionally, I hope they enjoy the artistry and especially the music from The Roots, which is really rich.

Hamilton on her inspirations…

“Fat City” because I love the rough edges around all the characters and Huston’s unbroken vision and respect for naturalism. “Mean Streets” is a personal favorite since I first saw it years ago. During the filming of this movie, I watched the bar fight scene many times for inspiration. “Lumumba” for its spectacular vision and its first ten minutes in which Raoul Peck sums up the political conundrum of colonialism. “To Kill a Mockingbird” for its rare narrative balance to nimbly bridge the adult and kid worlds. And because Gregory Peck’s performance is amazing and beautiful.

…and what’s in store for her future…

I have two projects I hope to work on next. One is a thriller/love story set in Jamaica during a violent election. The other is a film about two brothers in fledgling Native American tribe building their first casino and confronting the unforgiving world of D.C. politics to achieve their goal.

[indieWIRE invited directors with films in the Sundance U.S. Dramatic & Documentary Competitions as well as the NEXT section to submit responses in their own words about their films. These profiles are being published through the beginning of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. To prompt the discussion, iW asked the filmmakers about what inspired their films, the challenges they faced and other general questions. They were also free to add additional comments related to their projects.]

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