After a bit of confusion, I found myself at Geoffrey’s Inner Circle on Saturday to catch a few films. Sadly, I only got to see two, as the division of the venue was unknown to me until the last minute. So while I had originally come to see Beyond The Walls, I ended up seeing Wedding Dress and Da Cotton Pickas. I couldn’t stay for FREE because the screening transitions were running a little late, and I had some business to attend to around 3pm. It hurt my heart not to be able to stay, but sometimes you do what you gotta do. No harm no foul though. I humbly submit some scribbled thoughts for your perusal.
Wedding Dress is an insular moment, at a running time of 12 minutes. But outside of that, director Haroula Rose was able to pack it full of fun and not-so-fun stuff. Plot-wise: when a man named Michael returns to his hometown, he drops by his estranged brother John’s place only to be greeted by his new sister-in-law Rayanne. They commune and things take a turn as they await John’s return.
With nothing more than a swishy hairline, a ragged beard, and folksy charm, Michael convinces Rayanne that he’s John’s brother. And she lets him inside the house even though she admits that John has never mentioned Michael before, in life. From a purely petty perspective, this kinda screamed “shit white people do” to me. How you let a cat into your house who don’t even provide ID or the location of his brother’s birthmark is wild suspect.
But you know, let that sink in and take with it what you will.
Michael and Rayanne clearly have chemistry. In fact, they become fast friends (over a bottle of wine) and not-so-subtly divulge their shared loneliness—Michael’s pain stemming from a recent break up, while Rayanne’s from current emotional and physical abuse. All of this romantic communion, however, culminates in John’s return. What’s interesting at this point is that John seems to not even know who Michael is. It’s unclear whether Michael is truly John’s brother or a lovelorn grifter picking up battered wives (is either scenario okay?) After a quick tussle, the two broken-winged lovebirds run off together in Michael’s retro van.
Now, the film is quite short, so there’s not much to say across the board. But the acting is pretty good and there’s plenty of warm, fun cinematography throughout. Just enough, in fact, that it makes Wedding Dress feel more “small project” than “student film.” This is a good thing, considering the short amount of time we get with these characters and its almost too sweet ending.
Hopefully it’ll be on Vimeo or some other readily available format for your viewing pleasure in the near future.
Da Cotton Pickas
Da Cotton Pickas was next up—another short, running about 27 minutes. Directed by Robert “Fleetwood” Bowden, the film documents the personal history of a couple of former sharecroppers who now reside in the Bay Area.
For those who don’t know, sharecropping was an insidious system that essentially replaced slavery in the years after the Civil War, up through damn near modern times. Under it, primarily black workers were “given” land on which they could work and own, with the binding commitment being to provide a certain amount of their crops to their white debtors. The problem was, many of these black folk were illiterate (financially and otherwise) or knowingly deceived by their debtors. Thus many were swindled for thousands of hours of labor, all the while being told every year that they “nearly made it out of debt.”
The first half of Pickas does good on this history lesson, profiling Bishop Henry C. Williams and Mary L. Booker, ex-sharecroppers who escaped the system for the west coast during their early 20s. If anything, it’s incredibly moving to see both of these elders speak from personal experience on how sharecropping worked against multiple generations of their families and friends.
The film pivots in a new direction at the midpoint, though. Powered by several new interviews, as well as choice words from Bowden himself, Pickas becomes a bit of a political manifesto. It makes the jump from “history of sharecropping” to “where are we now and how can we build up from the grassroots?” While this isn’t wrong by any means, it is a bit of a shift because the film could’ve spent a bit more time contextualizing and exploring the lives of Booker and Williams.
Instead, we end up in several broad stroke conversations concerning education, colorism, racial unity, reparations, and social justice. Mind you, all of these conversations are important, and they’re powerfully illustrated and contextualized by Davey Cook and Etecia Brown (and Bowden, again). But considering the short length of the film, it does cut into the strong locus that the Pickas initially presents on sharecropping and its history.
If anything, I would love to see the film re-cut and expanded to feature length so that all of the above conversations could be fully explored without sacrificing focus or narrative coherence. Regardless, the film does serve an educational purpose. Bowden himself brought this up during the film, and after through Q&A: we (read: black folk) must take charge of our children’s education and not leave it to popular media and culture to teach them our history. While this is obviously (and painfully) true for children of color, it’s equally true for all of us as Americans (or folks living in America, however you see yourself here).
In other words: stay woke dog.
So yeah, those are the films I got to see that day. The closing of the festival was last night and reviews for that will be up quite soon.
And, support the Oakland International Film Festival however you can.
Okay, I promise those are all the links I’ll throw in * this * post.
The original Homeboy With A Keyboard ™, dap wants to be an enigma, but he’s pretty transparent. A transplant from “Back East,” he found himself in Oakland writing about alla the fun things. He’s in love with the coco(a) (skinned women and butter,) among other things. Find his rants and retweetery @dapisdope