Jerry LaMothe has crafted a distinguished
career as a filmmaker that can speak for the unspoken, most notably for the
people ‘around the way’ like in his home neighborhood of Flatbush, Brooklyn,
while still maintaining an entertaining and clear vision of how he sees the
world. We caught up with him in
advance of this Thursday’s anniversary screening of his debut film AMOUR INFINITY that takes place at New York’s own MIST Harlem at 4pm and
8pm, to chat about what it took to make his first film and what keeps him going.
For those perhaps more familiar with LaMothe’s
latest award-winning work The Tombs
but not his earlier films, AMOUR INFINITY
(A Brooklyn Love Story) is an urban tale
of street life, hardship, and love.
It revolves around Derek, a young East Flatbush, Brooklyn man (played by Lamothe) who has lost
his job and the mother of his child just left him as well. He almost
gives up on happiness until he stumbles across Amour (Jamie Burton-Oare), an
old friend from high school, and their friendship blossoms into a love neither
has ever experienced before. But
as he attempts to juggle fatherhood, love, loyalty, a son, and a secret, what
will each cost him?
In celebration of LaMothe’s career and
his big new international production The
Promise Keeper starring Jamie Hector (‘The Wire’), S. Epatha
Merkerson (Peeples), Jimmy Jean-Louis
Garcelle Beauvais (Flight) and
Edwidge Danticat (Stones in the Sun) [see more info on it below] New Voices in Black
Cinema and the Creatively Speaking Film Series are collaborating to
present Amour Infinity on the big
screen to audiences for the first time in close to a decade. The screening takes place at MIST
Harlem and tickets are available at http://bit.ly/AInvbc58
What was your inspiration for writing the story of Amour
Initially, my goal was to break into acting. I was an aspiring actor
looking to create work for myself.
I’d been an extra on some big budget films and knew that was a dead end
road. After getting kicked out of
a John Singleton audition, that I crashed, I knew something had to give
In 1999, I heard about the
Acapulco Black Film Festival on 107.5 WBLS. I saved my money, flew out there and participated in the
Actors Boot Camp, hosted by Bill Duke and Robert Townsend. During the lecture,
they pointed out that as people of color, we didn’t have the luxury of just
being “actors” that we had to write and produce our own content. They discussed
the DV revolution and how with the new Canon XL1 and SonyVX1000, people who
otherwise would’ve never had a chance to make a movie [with the cost of film], now
could. They waged a bet… Townsend himself said that if anyone in this room were
truly sincere and committed to their craft, at least one person in this room
would come back with a film next year.
The following year, Amour was
traveling the festival circuit.
You played Derek, the lead character, in addition to writing and
directing. Is there any other character in the film besides him that you could
relate to on a personal level?
Not necessary relate to, but more so familiar with. As they say, you write what you
know. The character Derek was
largely based on my personal life, so I clearly related to him the most.
However, I think we all know those guys “on the block.” I grew up with many of
The film was made on a budget of $45,000. What was your process
like in terms of raising funds and shooting on such a small budget?
Given it was my first film and I had no real knowledge of budgeting and
financing a film, at first I thought I could shoot the film for about $5,000. I was already rehearsing with the cast, and
four days from shooting, when I realized I had just enough to shoot for two
days. I reached out to friends and family members, along with my personal
savings and used my weekly paycheck.
My mother had been saving to buy a house for years, and she emptied her
savings, about $5,000, which was a lot, to help me make the movie. But ultimately, I needed more funds. I
reached out to some local entrepreneurs who owned several fried chicken spots in
the community. They’d known me most of my adolescent life from buying chicken
nuggets and fries almost every day from them. They had love for me, so they
signed on as my EP’s and financed the film.
How did you assemble your cast?
The cast was largely assembled from the group I met at [the] ABFF Boot
Camp from the year before. Laz
Alonso and many others were in that class. Jamie Burton-Oare (Amour) sat beside
me. She was mad cool and driven. Like me, she was hungry and motivated
by the class. She lived in Harlem, so we kept in touch. Once I returned to
Brooklyn and started writing the script, I called her and told her I had a part
for her. I then posted an ad in Backstage magazine and held an open call.
Nearly 400 people came out. That’s where I cast many of the remaining roles.
What was the biggest challenge posed to you in creating Amour
What wasn’t a challenge! Amour
Infinity is where I truly learned about Murphy’s Law. The bulk of my
funding wasn’t secured until my first day on set. My car was towed two days
before principle photography and I had to pawn my jewelry to feed my cast and
crew, during the third week of shooting. My cast, and some crew, was never aware
of most of these obstacles. It wasn’t their burden to bear. My favorite quote,
whenever I’m in production is, “Heavy is the head that wears the crown.” I can
go on and on. The beauty of it was, I knew at a certain point, there was no
way this movie wasn’t going to get made. After a while, I realized these were the hurdles that come with
any ambitious endeavor you take in life, to propel yourself. None of this took
anything away from the experience and blessing of actually pulling it off.
I have a certain level of fearlessness, when it comes to making films.
All my projects to date have been independent, privately funded projects. I
tell people all of the time, if I made my film the practical so called standard
way of making a movie, which I suppose in theory means, EVERYTHING is in place,
before moving forward (financing etc,) here it is 13 years later, I still wouldn’t
have a single film credit to my name! My life has never been that way. I can’t sit and wait for everything to
fall in place. I have to keep it
moving, hustle and grind, then everything else around me peeps game and falls
into place. The universe conspires to open doors and opportunities for you,
when it realizes you will not accept another option or direction – that you’re
strong in your convictions about your purpose. No one should ever be able to
convince you that you can’t achieve something that you’ve done before.
How did the positive response to your debut affect your career?
It’s truly been an amazing experience – especially for a debut film.
Anytime you can create anything, be it a song or a film in this crazy assembly
line crank them out society and still have people appreciate, discover and
watch something you created over 13 years ago…that is truly a blessing. The
truth of the matter is, there are multimillion dollar studio projects made
every year, that are all but forgotten, no sooner than [after] they’re released.
Over the years, many people have written to me, expressing their love for the
film and the impact it had on their lives. Many of my fellow filmmakers today
were inspired and motivated by Amour
and I can’t tell you how many mothers have approached me to tell me how they
named their daughters “Amour” after the film’s character. By being invited to
film festivals, the film also provided me with the opportunity to travel and
see the world – something I never really had the blessing of doing prior to.
Seeing the film air on television on pay-per-view (before On-Demand and
Netflix), along with films like Amores Perros and Before Night Falls blew
my friends and family away. Everyone in the hood saw it for free, because
everybody had the illegal box! The film premiered in 2000, at Urbanworld [Film
Festival]. Legend has it they remodeled their security tactics after our premiere!
Anyone who was there can tell you, it was bananas – completely sold out and over
packed. John Singleton was dating
an actress from the film at the time, so he was in attendance. He LOVED the film. I never told him I
was the brother he kicked out of his audition, the year before.
Less than two years after the Actors Boot Camp at ABFF, Amour won best film at the Jamerican
Film Festival in Jamaica. During the award ceremony, they called my name and
who’s there to present me with the plaque? None other than Chris Tucker and
Robert Townsend himself! I was like wow, what an irony. The man whose speech had inspired me to
be a filmmaker in the first place was now presenting me with an award. I never
got a chance to tell him that and how much I appreciated him.
Looking back after 13 years, is there anything you would like to
have done differently with the film?
Like with any artist who looks back at their work, there are a million things
I could’ve done differently in retrospect. You have to trust the decisions you
made at the time with what was available to you. I seldom watch my old work for
that reason. With every piece, we grow and get better (or at least we’re suppose
to) so yes, when I watch my previous films, I’ll find myself cringing at some
moments because the person that I am today, would’ve made a different choice. ‘Why
didn’t I cut there, or damn, why didn’t I have him do that over’? You’ll drive yourself crazy. Outside of
that, I watch my movies every couple of years or so – especially with an
audience. I enjoy watching because
it’s very nostalgic for me. I met many lifelong friends and created great bonds
through Amour. Sure, I can critique myself all
day – I’m my own worst critic –
but at the end of the day I wouldn’t change anything. Most of what I can criticize, also serves as what made Amour appealing to many. It’s an unpolished raw film.
Who have been some of your biggest influences as a
Spike Lee, first and foremost. This is pretty obvious in my work – particularly
in my earlier ones. I’m drawn to ensembles, so I’d have to say Robert Altman
and Charles Burnett. I think Christopher Nolan is brilliant. I also find Frank
Darabont and Edward Zwick’s work compelling.
You’ve worked with many great actors—are there any performers you
haven’t worked with yet that you would like to direct?
I’ve been blessed to work with many amazing talent, from veterans to
newcomers. There are many others that I’d love to work with, including Don
Cheadle, Issac De Bankole’, Michael K. Williams, Ken Watanabe and Irrfan Khan, to
name a few. I’m also a big fan of Yassin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def). We’ve been trying to work together for
over ten years now. Scheduling and funding have always gotten in the way. I
think it’s safe to say that we have a strong mutual respect for one another
(laughs), so if it is written, we’ll get it done one day. If all goes well, I
should be working with at least two of the aforementioned, over the next year
Can you briefly describe your next project, The Promise Keeper?
The Promise Keeper is my
next passion project. I’m extremely excited about it! I’ve been developing it, over the last
three years. It’s about two childhood, lifelong friends and their connected
journey, despite their different paths and years apart from seeing one another.
The story is about self-discovery, bonds and ancestry. It’s also very mythical.
Jamie Hector, S. Epatha Merkerson, Jimmy Jean-Louis, Garcelle Beauvais
and Edwidge Danticat are attached. Both Nonso Anozie and Eriq Ebouaney,
recently signed on and I think those cats are wicked (actors)! Many of these
guys definitely would be on my list of talent to direct, had I not already have
the good fortune to be working with them. There’s some other talent we’re in
talks with, but I’m not at liberty to announce just yet. We’ve also been
promoting and marketing the film through Forest Whitaker’s JuntoBoxfilm.com. The indie film community can follow the
progression of the project and catch a sneak peak at the script and breakdowns.
Part of the shoot is in Haiti, so this is an extremely exciting and ambitious
project for me. I’m basically pacing myself, like a trained runner running a
marathon. I’m enjoying the journey.
The 13th anniversary screening of AMOUR INFINITY takes place
at MIST Harlem Cinemas (46 West 116th Street, New York, NY) tomorrow Thursday May 16th at 4pm and 8pm.
Jerry LaMothe and special guests will be in attendance for a Q&A following
the 8pm screening. Tickets are
available at the MIST Harlem website at http://bit.ly/AInvbc58. More information is available at www.ActNowproduction.org
This interview was written with assistance from film and pop culture
writer Aisha Harris.