DCIFF '16: "Driving While Black" Review

If “Crash” had the slight edge of a stoner film it would be “Driving While Black”. The film blends comedy with the serious and timely subject of racial profiling and police brutality flawlessly. What makes “Driving While Black” so enjoyable is it makes its points without proselytizing. At its heart, the movie is about the ups and downs of a flawed individual trying to make ends meet while pursuing his passion. Dealing with the police just happens to be a part of the story woven into his daily life. In many cases we see play out in the news, I think this is what makes police brutality so appalling and the film so relevant.  

Set to the sounds of hip-hop and the visual background of LA streets both seen and unseen in films, “Driving While Black” is a guaranteed conversation starter. Writer/star Dominique Purdy is Dimitri, a pizza delivery guy trying to make it as an artist in LA. He’s had his fair share of discriminatory run-ins with the police in his lifetime, which has left a distrustful taste in his mouth as evidenced through flashbacks in the movie. After his car breaks down giving him some time to take a tour of celebrity homes in LA, Dimitri has an opportunity to get a better job as a star maps guide. Each time he makes an attempt, something comes up that keeps him from the interview, and it’s usually the police.

The film also works at portraying a balance of both sides of the coin. Simultaneously throughout the film we are able to see the inner workings of a local police unit comprised of ethnically diverse cops that weave in and out of Dimitri’s storyline. The workplace banter amongst the cops is filled with realism that brings them down to a “next door neighbor” type of vibe that is relatable. From Officer Borty-Lio (Sheila Tejada) trying to get promoted to provide for her family in a squad full of men, to the bad apple Officer McVitie (Peter Cilella) whose past demons have created an over-aggressive monster behind a badge, the film does a good job of developing all characters involved on both sides of the issue.

“Driving While Black” doesn’t sugar coat its character’s decisions either. In one scene, Dimitri is pulled over with a friend who has been driving while high on marijuana, and in another a friend has a gun in the car. It almost makes you question Dimitri’s choice in friends, but these are real life examples that show we all aren’t perfect.  It’s a great mixture of ingredients that help to allow the viewer to decide what’s right and wrong in the situation.

Director Paul Sapiano does a great job of pacing the film out and allowing the film to disarm you with its comedy.  But when the film gets serious, it’s hair-raising.  It’s the situation that black men prepare themselves and their sons for. It’s the type of situation that every move and word counts if you want to go home that night. It’s exactly what makes the film a great display and analysis of the subject matter that will have you talking after the lights come up.

“Driving While Black” takes a comedic approach to a controversy that has become all too common these days. Sometimes comedy is the best medicine. Hopefully, it can serve as another resource to open the door to conversation about this troubling issue in America.

Rating: B+

“Driving While Black” screens at the DC Independent Film Festival Friday March 11, 2016.

Comment

Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.

DCIFF '15: "House of Manson" Review

Writer/director Brandon Slagle’s “House of Manson” chronicles the life of Charles Manson (Ryan Kiser) leading up to the infamous Tate and LaBianca murders.The film doesn’t attempt to glorify or villianize Manson. Instead, it’s a by the books account of one of America’s most talked about killers.

The film moves swiftly through Manson’s early life. It focuses more on his time as a wandering musician, eventually leading up to starting the Manson Family. There is a lot of emphasis on the use of sex and drugs as a way to seduce, particularly the women in the family. Overall, the charismatic “star power” of Manson (the ability to influence others to kill at the time) is lost in the film, and his influence seems to stem more from the drugs, but perhaps that’s the point. 

The cinematography throughout the film is incredible. It captures the look and feel of the late 60’s shooting many scenes at golden hour to create a dream like look that’s close to the drug induced haze its characters are in. It also uses chiaroscuro (Italian word for strong contrast between light and dark) to its advantage. Once the violence gets going in the movie, the black is crushed and there is a steep drop off from light to dark in all of the scenes. The skillful implementation of this technique casts ominous shadows on the actors in all the right places, supplementing the horrific actions they carry out. 

The biggest issue with “House of Manson” is that its actors play crazy, and do more acting when they aren’t speaking. The cast of characters have an uncanny likeness to their real live counterparts. However, most of the lines are delivered based on what should be said next rather than a reaction and response to what was said. There are glimpses of three dimensional human beings in Davanny Pinn as Susan Atkins, Reid Warner as Tex Watson, and Kiser’s performance, but most moments feel like caricaturizations

Slagle’s unbiased approach is helpful in swallowing the extreme violence the last thirty minutes of the film delves into. Thankfully, he uses more of a Hitchcockian technique by showing less, and using audio to clue us into what’s happening. Overall the film is a bit sterile for the subject matter. “House of Manson” has its East Coast premiere tonight at 9:20pm at the DC Independent Film Festival.

Rating: C

Comment

Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.

DCIFF '15: "Southeast 67" Review

“Southeast 67” is a documentary that speaks to the power of education, altruism, hard work and love. Using a mixture of archival footage and photos, and shooting presently with some of the first I Have A Dream program students, it tackles the age old question of who wins: nature or nurture? The documentary refreshingly dares to answer “life isn’t that black and white.” 

In the 1980s, Washington D.C. was known as the “Murder Capital”. Stewart Bainum, a businessman in the area, promised college scholarships to 67 rising seventh graders through the I Have A Dream program. Out of the 67 Dreamers, 72% graduated from high school and 6 went on to get degrees. Writer/director Betsy Cox catches up with some of the Dreamers and their teachers, Phyllis Rumbarger and Steve Bumbaugh, and captures a family reunion on screen amongst the group. It’s clear that the time in the program was a special moment in everyone’s life. 

Each personal story presented is diverse. No two Dreamers are the same. The entrancing part of being able to catch up with the Dreamers twenty years later, is that you can formulate an answer to whether the opportunity to get out of a drug and violence filled environment to pursue a better education was enough to put them on the path to success. For some of the Dreamers that appear in the documentary, the opportunity came at a price that we may not instantly think of. Most of them were worried more about their mother being in an abusive relationship, possibly overdosing on drugs in their absence, or where they would get money to live while being away. These haunting thoughts kept some of them paralyzed to move forward, while others were able to take full advantage of the opportunity. Yet, the outcomes twenty years later are equally positive in their own way.   

One of the most intriguing things about the documentary is seeing the generational impact of decisions. Sadly, many of the Dreamers were fighting just to make it into the middle class, but the opportunity to have hope for a different future had a lasting impact that has touched their children's lives. The film could have easily slipped into the sensationalism of one white man giving 67 underprivileged black kids a helping hand. Instead, it focuses on love, which sees no color, and permeates each frame from the inside out with undeniable results. “Southeast 67” plays at the DC Independent Film Festival on Friday, February 27th at 7:30PM

Rating: B


Comment

Kevin Sampson

The fact that Kevin Sampson is not just a film critic, but a writer, producer, and director as well makes his understanding of cinema even better. Coming from a theoretical and hands on approach, he understands both sides of the struggle of viewing and creating great works. After receiving an MFA in Film & Electronic Media from American University in Washington, D.C in 2011, Kevin took his love for film to the next level by creating and producing Picture Lock, an entertainment website, podcast, and hour long film review TV show that runs on Arlington Independent Media’s public access station in Arlington, VA. The show covers new releases, classic films, and interviews with local filmmakers in the DMV area. He is also a member of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association and African American Film Critics Association. He is currently looking forward to filming his first feature film in the near future. He believes that film is one of the most powerful art forms in the world, and he hopes that he can use the craft to inspire others and make a difference in it.