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10 Questions With Barry Jenkins

by Tambay A. Obenson
November 2, 2011 4:58 AM
10 Comments
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Here's a new S&A feature, among many others to come, that I've long been working towards implementing...

I'm introducing today what I'm calling "10 Questions With A Black Filmmaker," in which, as the title states, a filmmaker will be asked 10 questions, they'll answer, and I'll share both questions and answers here with the rest of you to read.

It's just something that I thought would be both fun and enlightening for readers of S&A, but also for the filmmakers; shorter and less formal than the interviews you'd listen to on the S&A Livecast.

I came up with about 50 different questions, really on the fly, and each filmmaker will be given a random selection of 10 of those 50 questions to answer. The questions are a mix of both the personal and professional, and, based on the responses I've received from the filmmakers who've responded thus far, have been fun and, in some case, even challenging to answer.

So... starting today, I'll post each "10 Questions With A Black Filmmaker" session just as randomly as I came up with the questions; meaning, on no specific schedule.

First on the list is Mr Barry Jenkins who I'm sure many of you already know well enough, given how much we've written about him and his work on S&A over the last 2 1/2 years. If the name doesn't immediately register, maybe the title of his 2008 feature film debut will - Medicine For Melancholy. And if that still doesn't sound familiar, then consider this your intro. And after you read his responses to my questions, do yourself a favor and go rent and/or buy Medicine For Melancholy on DVD.

Since that film, Barry has directed 3 short films, all of which we've also covered on this site. Tall Enough (a Bloomingdales Filmmaking Initiative project), Remigration (from the season 2 class of the ITVS/Futurestates series), and Chlorophyll, a joint collaboration between Jenkins and the BORSCHT Film Festival in Miami.

The first 2 short films are available online (HERE & HERE), so I encourage you to watch them if you haven't.

Without further ado... 10 Questions With Barry Jenkins:

1. Earliest movie memory...

Aliens. Miami. Drive-in. When that thing jumped out that lady's belly? Popcorn EVERYWHERE.

2. Preferred mode of travel: Plane, train, automobile... or teleportation?

Train. Patience, pace and proximity to the landscape.

3. If I could go back in time, I'd return to this period/moment/place/etc...

I always want to be fully present, mindful of the past but completely present... though a coffee with Baldwin in Turkey sometime between 60' and 71' would be interesting. And I don't remember enough about my childhood, so 1984 Miami would be heavy, productive, enriching. Beyond that, I want to be present. History is tall and wide, it would take lifetimes to properly honor those who came before us. And let me tell you, those folks we'd go back to would send us right back forward with the quickness, trust me.

4. I'd like to see what this musician could do with a film camera...

Man, this is probably the hardest question on here. I get so amped on visuals from soundscapes, I can't help but think the energy flows the opposite direction as well. I was visually sated by Kanye's Runaway (and I thought some of the metaphors were sublime), so that one's done. Erykah would make a wonderful filmmaker, our generation's Julie Dash. I would've loved to have seen what Miles Davis would do with a camera, he saw in sound, you know? To me this is what electric Miles was all about, would have loved to have seen him go all the way. Stevie scored a film on listening to the film alone; I'm not being coy at all when I say I'd love to see what Stevie Wonder could do with a camera, he took synthesizers and made real poetry where others had previously wrung nothing but noise. I mean I get the implausibility of it, creation is revision and you have to be able to properly proof yourself and revise/repeat but, absent context, I think there's something there, a tool is a tool is a tool in the hands of an artist.

5. Sweetback or Virgil Tibbs?

How about Melvin Van Peebles directing Heat of The Night... by which I mean Sweetback all day

6. My ideal professional life as a filmmaker would look like this…

I feel the same about the future as I do about the past. But if I play along I'll say that I've always admired the way Steven Soderbergh and Michael Winterbottom go about their work. They seem fueled purely by their curiosity. And I imagine they have fun with it. In concrete terms, I want to approach feature films the same way I've recently approached shorts, at the same pace and with the same diversity.

7. I want my tombstone to read…

Don't want one. Maybe that will change with time but I don't think that's the way for me.

8. I own every single album (or should own every single album) by this musician…

A Tribe Called Quest, The Sea and Cake, Sam Prekop, Outkast, Tindersticks and Rachel's. A few others are close but I have everything ever released by those folks. Formative.

9. If I weren't a filmmaker, I'd be this...

An English Teacher. High school, back home in Miami.

10. I could sit through a 24-hour marathon of films by this filmmaker…

Claire Denis, because it wouldn't feel like a marathon of film at all. On the contrary, it would most closely approach the cinematic representation of real life. There's a place for escapism, we all need it time to time. But sometimes you just need that real thang, and Ms. Denis is all about bringing that real... thang. Give me 48 hours of that, feel me? I'm'a watch that marathon twice!

THANKS Barry!!

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10 Comments

  • Quentin | November 3, 2011 1:04 AMReply

    "When that thing jumped out that lady’s belly?" -- Jenkins

    I thought the thing jumped out of a man's stomach. I could be wrong...

  • MiddleMyatt | November 2, 2011 10:06 AMReply

    Great questions!
    Great interview!
    Typical S&A excellence!
    Thanks!

  • blaqbird | November 2, 2011 9:08 AMReply

    Yes, more please! :)

  • Neziah | November 2, 2011 8:38 AMReply

    I've seen all of his films; top notch filmmaker. Looking forward to another feature length film from him.

  • Shanea | November 2, 2011 8:14 AMReply

    Loved this interview. Looking forward to more of this series!

  • Tamara | November 2, 2011 6:44 AMReply

    10 great questions/prompts and 10 great answers/responses. Loved this. Loved particularly what he had to say with musicians and filmmaking. Thank you.

  • Nikki | November 2, 2011 5:45 AMReply

    Great first interview. Looking forward to this series.

  • Emmanuel | November 2, 2011 5:18 AMReply

    Very good answers.

    But Sweetback over Virgil Tibbs? I don't know about that one. Let's not forget about the slap heard 'round the world.

  • Jasmin | November 2, 2011 5:09 AMReply

    Agreed, this is great. Can't wait to see more of the series!

  • Vanessa Martinez | November 2, 2011 5:02 AMReply

    this was a great idea. Interesting questions and answers.

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