Sundance Film Festival
Often times, it’s hard to avoid some of the themes that run through movies playing at any given year of the Sundance Film Festival. That especially seems to be the case this year where a number of filmmakers of color made a definite impact. While I haven’t seen all the films that deal with race and class – and there were many — two standouts played during the festival’s first couple days that I did see, BLINDSPOTTING and NIGHT COMES ON.
Co-written by Hamilton and The Get Down star Daveed Diggs, Blindspotting was one of the festival’s Day One movies, blowing into Park City with a world premiere that was met with rapturous applause and almost immediate backlash, as well.
The feature film debut of director Carlos López Estrada begins with Diggs’ Collin as he’s released from jail and put on probation. We then follow him and his best friend and co-worker Miles (Rafael Casal, the film’s co-writer) dealing with their day-to-day as movers in Oakland, California, Collin having only a few more days left in his probation, so being present while Miles buying a gun probably isn’t the best idea.
When Collin witnesses a police officer shooting a black man in the back, he isn’t sure if he should do or say anything about it to anyone other than Miles. In Oakland, tensions between the Oakland police and the city’s African-American population. Keep that in mind because as the laughs come easily, Blindspotting is ultimately a very serious movie about issues faced by too many black males of Oakland.
Jordana Spiro’s feature debut also begins with a young African-American being released from jail and put on parole, but 17-year-old April Lamere, played by Dominique Fishback (The Deuce), is more concerned with getting revenge on her father who has recently been released from jail after killing April’s mother. In order to find him, she turns to her 10-year-old sister Abby (Tatum Marilyn Hall), and the two of them go on a journey to find their father.
I was really impressed by Night Comes On, because it’s not your typical Sundance movie, and Spiro takes a completely naturalistic approach to telling April’s story. Dominique Fishback is an amazing find, as is young Tatum Marilyn Hall, the two of them creating a sisterly bond that’s very believable, and Spiro should be commended for finding these two actors and guiding them into the authenticity necessary for the film to work.
To be honest, there really isn’t a lot in common between the two movies other than the opening scene and the fact both films use a gun as an ongoing plot device, but they both leave a lasting impression with their very different ways at exploring socio-political issues. Whereas Blindspotting tends to be heightened in its humor, Night Comes On handles things very seriously, particularly homelessness and the class divide in the Philadelphia area.
At first, Rafael Casel’s Miles is increasingly annoying, and he and Diggs spends much of their time together calling each other names, but it’s a buddy comedy only for the first half as things get far more serious. Collin is a
Blindspotting’s last act is where you’re finally made aware of the significance of some of the things set-up earlier in the film that might not seem to connect with each other.
As much as one wants to praise Blindspotting’s leads and co-writers, one has to also give credit to Estrada, who does a terrific job with the material, especially in the moments when Diggs gets to freestyle, which is hard to integrate without taking you out of the reality.
One does have to wonder how Blindspotting might fare outside of Oakland and whether African-Americans in areas like Brooklyn and Atlanta and other places will have any interest in the issues faced by Oakland, as much as they’re prevalent nationwide. Night Comes On is more for a specialty audience, and sadly, it might not get seen by those who might get the most out of it.
Ultimately, Blindspotting is a far more powerful film that leaves a deep impact on the viewer, and it doesn’t take costly Hamilton tickets to realize that Diggs is incredibly talented and should continue making films. Night Comes On also introduces a lot of new talent, and though it’s a quieter more introspective film, it’s also one that’s definitely worth seeking out. (Addendum: Since this piece was written, Lionsgate bought the distribution rights to Blindspotting with plans for a nationwide release.)
Edward Douglas | East Coast Editor