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Checking In On Barry Jenkins... 4 Feature Projects In Development, $50,000 Grant & Staying Busy

Photo of Tambay A. Obenson By Tambay A. Obenson | Shadow and Act January 4, 2013 at 12:24PM

Long time readers of this site, since its creation in 2009, will know that Barry Jenkins is one of our favorite filmmakers; we've plugged and pushed just about every project with his name attached - those we've been aware of anyway - and continuously, anxiously wait for the next, whether it be a short or a feature; although, to be frank, we're most looking forward to seeing another feature film from the talented young man, since his first feature, Medicine For Melancholy, debuted over 4 years ago.
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Barry Jenkins

Long time readers of this site, since its creation in 2009, will know that Barry Jenkins is one of our favorite filmmakers; we've plugged and pushed just about every project with his name attached - those we've been aware of anyway - and continuously, anxiously wait for the next, whether it be a short or a feature; although, to be frank, we're most looking forward to seeing another feature film from the talented young man, since his first feature, Medicine For Melancholy, debuted over 4 years ago.

Not that he hasn't been busy; Since that film, Barry has directed 3 short films, all of which we 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.

And also, as I just learned from a new SF Gate interview with the elusive Mr Jenkins, posted yesterday, he's busy with the media company he co-founded, Strike Anywhere Films, making commercials and other branded content for major corporations, like Facebook and Southwest Airlines.

A few more things I also learned from the interview that I thought were worth sharing, include:

- That Barry was twice nominated for a United States Artists grant, which comes with a $50,000 check; the second time he was nominated, he collected, and only recently picked up the award in December, just in time for Christmas! Congrats Mr Jenkins!

- And secondly, maybe of most interest, since this is a film blog, when asked if he has a second feature film in the works, here's what Barry said in response:

I've been working with Focus Features on a film for 2 1/2 or three years, developing, budgeting and writing, trying to get it green-lit. I'm also rewriting a smaller film with the San Francisco Film Society about a guy who gets out of San Quentin and tries to reintegrate himself into society. It's called "Jeremiad."

So, he may be busy producing commercials and branded content, but he definitely hasn't left the world of feature filmmaking, and we're glad about that!

If the 2 projects he mentions aren't familiar to you, the first one, even though he doesn't name it - the Focus Features project - is one he had mentioned in 2011, specifically calling it a biographical film that he was working on with Focus Features, but he refused to discuss it further because, as he stated then, "the subject of the film is still alive." I was really curious then as to who this person would be; and I'm still curious today.

He did say that the film, if it moves ahead with Focus Features, would be budgeted in the many millions, which might be, in part, what's holding it up.

I don't think we've ever covered the second film - Jeremiad - although it's one that he's also been developing for some time. In 2010, Barry received a SFFS/KRF grant for screenwriting for Jeremiad, with a longer description adding that the lead character, Jeremiah, goes back to San Francisco following a term in San Quentin to discover that there’s a stigma on Black men returning from prison, for which he has a compelling rebuttal, in the form of a prison clinic printout specifically declaring him HIV negative. The ensuing consequences challenge Jeremiah more than his incarceration did until he comes to understand that hope is the product of honesty.

But also on the feature film front, I should add that Barry is one of 4 filmmakers attached to an adaptation of the graphic novel, A Contract With God And Other Tenement Stories, published in 1978 by the late cartoonist, Will Eisner - each directing one of the four short stories the book tells: A Contract With GodThe SuperThe Street Singer, and Cookalein.

All 4 stories, said to be semi-autobiographical, are mostly set in a Bronx tenement in the 1930s, and are centered on common themes of first-generation immigrant experiences, across different cultures.

Barry is tackling The Super.

This was a project initially announced in 2010, and my last update on it was at least a year ago, when it was announced that the film was still very much in play, and that they were closer than ever to getting it launched, after what had been a tumultous year. No word on where that stands currently.

And finally, another feature film project that Barry is also developing, although details are still scarce at the moment; but what we do know is that he's working with award-winning African American playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney on what is being described as a triptych feature about Liberty City that is being produced by Borscht Corp (who were also behind Barry's short film Chorophyl).

I did previously ask Barry for further details on that project, and, as usual, he was mostly, and understandably mum on it. But he did add that he and Tarell, both about the same age, grew up blocks from each other, and he read an early version of the script, which he said was "halfway between the stage and the screen" and Borstch Corp stepped in to see how they could solidify it as a screen project.

So, there ya have it! Your annual Barry Jenkins update! 

All kidding aside... I really hope one of these handful of feature projects is eventually realized, sooner than later.


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