I kicked off my SXSW Film adventure by running into my sidekick for the evening, fellow blogger, Dr. Goddess. Our SXSW Interactive panels were neighbors. I was on a mission to make it to the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar for the debut of Matthew A. Cherry’s The Last Fall. Cherry has been incredibly open about the filmmaking process through his production blog and his Kickstarter and IndieGoGo campaigns. It was nice to be able to be there the night the film premiered.
After braving the rain and Austin rush hour traffic, and about a thousand people who wanted to chat with Dr. Goddess, I moved with drill sergeant-like intensity towards the Austin Convention Center parking garage and made it to the Alamo Drafthouse South Lamar just as they were letting in badge holders.
Louis Black, SXSW co-founder, noted that The Last Fall was one of the first films to screen the 2012 SXSW Film Festival. Fresh off the unease of an Oscar race featuring two black women nominated (YAY!) for playing maids (Sigh!) it was nice to see a film with black women playing something other than long suffering or shrill.
Vanessa Bell Calloway played Marie Bishop, the mother of the main character, Kyle Bishop, a recently-unemployed NFL journeyman. Marie Bishop is a divorcee who at times teetered with the boundaries of the stereotypical shrill and the emotionally detached, long suffering black mother, but stayed just shy. The film never explained Marie’s strained relationship with her son Kyle and daughter Chris. So there is some cringeworthy yelling. Yes, I have a thing about Black women yelling onscreen. Yelling seems to at times be the go-to filmmaking device to characterize a black mother’s love and sacrifice for their children. Bell Calloway glows on screen, in other hands, this character might have tap danced on my last nerve. But, I ended up liking and rooting for her.
Yaani King played Kyle’s sister Chris. Yaani did an amazing job. I was invested in her mysterious character, but there was absolutely no payoff for that investment. There is an inference at the end of the film about why mother and daughter are at odds, but to reach a conclusion about the source of the angst, writer/director Matthew A. Cherry demands I make a leap the size of the Grand Canyon.
Nicole Beharie, who the world last saw opposite Michael Fassbender in Steve McQueen’s Shame, played the role of Faith Davis. If acting is about the eyes, then she nailed it. There was no yelling (YAY!) and her best work was when she said nothing at all.
As for the rest of the film, Lance Gross established himself as a leading man who can carry a movie onscreen - I’d watch him for an hour and a half. Cherry put together a heck of a cast of experienced black actors like Harry Lennix and Keith Davis interspersed with the soon-to-be-a-star Michael Moss. Moss has a string of leading roles in his future. Overall, it was worth my time to see the movie. If I had one chief complaint, it would be the score. There were points where the film appeared to slow down that might have been helped along by music.
If black actresses lit up the screen, black women filmmakers lit up the hallways at SXSW. I got some great insights about casting and distribution from Ava Duvernay after the movie. She was there to support Matthew Cherry’s feature debut. T.K. Henderson, an Austin screenwriter who helps corral the local black filmmaking community through the Central Texas African Americans in Film group was also in the audience last night. T. K. single-handedly cast my first short film by personally reaching out to local actresses. Later that night I ran into producer/director Rakeda Lashae who offered her unqualified support in helping me navigate the local Austin filmmaking scene. While the interactive side of the conference is often overshadowed by the braggadocio of web celebrity cults, unsupported by any actual achievement, it was liberating to see the community of black women in film on display up on the screen and in the hallways of SXSW Film. I felt as if I’d “found my tribe.”
Gina McCauley blogs about the images of Black women in popular culture at What About Our Daughters and is a second career student filmmaker.