This article was produced as part of the Locarno Critics Academy, a workshop for aspiring journalists at the Locarno Film Festival, a collaboration between the Locarno Film Festival, IndieWire and the Film Society of Lincoln Center with the support of Film Comment and the Swiss Alliance of Film Journalists. The following interview, conducted by a member of the Critics Academy, focuses on a participant in the affiliated Filmmakers Academy program at the festival.
It’s dark as Xavier (Keishawn Butler), a black Brooklyn teenager with a promising future, walks home from baseball practice wearing a hoodie, when he is approached by two officers patrolling the streets in an unmarked police car. Xavier is ordered to stop, show his belongings and answer a series of questions. At this point in Reinaldo Marcus Green’s edge-of-your seat short “Stop,” different scenarios have already presented themselves in the viewer’s mind based on the number cases of police brutality that have become all too common. Yet, as “Stop” unfolds it becomes clear that Green is not interested in easy answers.
Green is a New York-based filmmaker whose work is centered around the life-changing moments in the lives of teenagers and young adults. In “Stone Cars,” his previous short that screened at the Cannes Film Festival in 2014, the focus lies on April (Olwethu Anita), a South African girl living in a township who faces a decision she will need to live with for the rest of her life. Be these stories set in the United States or in South Africa, they share one thing in common: what begins with a focus on individuals in a specific place and time, soon acquires more universal tones, especially as he explores not only social issues, but fragments of the human soul.
“My father was a lawyer and he was always very vocal on how there were always two sides to every story,” said Green in interview at the Locarno Film Festival. “Even if I was a hundred percent right, he would somehow find a reason to rebut something, come up with a new perspective.”
Green believes this may be the ultimate reason why he refuses, as a filmmaker, to provide clear-cut answers. Instead of closing his stories with an affirmation, what he leaves viewers instead is a series of questions.
“Ultimately, it is people’s own responsibility to understand and interpret facts,” said Green.
Xavier and April, as with many of his other characters, are young adults or teenagers facing turning points, and Green, who ran a “Gifted and Talented” program for kindergarten students before working in Wall Street to pay undergraduate student loans, feels particularly drawn to them.
“In both these films, the innocence of being a teenager was relevant,” said Green. “There’s a different way you react when you’re 25 than you do when you’re fifteen. When you’re young there’s this vulnerability, an innocence, a quality present within those two particular stories.”
This refusal to settle for the status quo and the continuous process of questioning structures around us are a very conscious part of his work. In order for society to advance, he believes, problems need to be identified, acknowledged and worked on. And he is glad a film like “Stop” can contribute to that discussion.
“Even though I don’t necessarily take a side, I show perspectives that are supposed to start a dialogue — it has, and I’ve been very pleased my films seem to do that,” said Green.
After the accolades he’s received for his shorts, Green is currently prepping his first feature, which builds off some of the ideas and themes in “Stop.”
“For me, the short films were certainly a necessary step into acquiring confidence in my own work, and ensuring others that I also had the skills and mechanics to work with bigger budgets,” said Green.