(The 2021 Slamdance Film Festival kicked off February 12 and ran through February 25, all online. Like what you see here on Hammer to Nail? Why not give just $1.00 per month via Patreon to help keep us going?)
Slamdance drama A Brixton Tale directed by Darragh Carey and Bertrand Desrochers examines polarized draw of Art and Identity. Anchored by two flawless performances, the stark film looks at the upper class’ obsession for commodifying and even owning other’s experiences, especially when they can sublimate someone else’s suffering into art. Lily Newmark plays videographer Leah, short for Ophelia, whose penchant for spying on other people’s lives with her camera leads her away from the safety of privilege and into the poor neighborhoods. There she discovers Benji (Ola Orebiyi) a young black teen struggling to get by as his friends pull him deeper into a future that feels inevitable. As Leah films him, their casual interaction becomes a relationship, and the footage becomes an art project. With shades of The Shape Of Things by Neil LaBute, Leah’s Professor pushes her to get grittier footage and push Benji’s boundaries. Benji’s life is already difficult enough but as Leah tries to create footage more interesting than playing video games at home with friends, her new boyfriend finds himself on the wrong side of many dangerous situations.
Posing the idea that everything is content and all content is good content, A Brixton Tale never slows down enough for Leah to consider what she is doing. Is she fascinated with his world or just exploiting, or fascinated that she can exploit it? This is a film about authorship. In the end, Leah has very little agency in her situation. She may have chosen Benji as her documentary project, but even when she manipulates the situations, she is only responding to her own professor’s manipulation. When Leah transplants Benji into her own group of friends to see what sparks may fly, she can have no idea she has lain the ground work for the end of their relationship.
And only 70 minutes, the film spirals out of control quickly and then ends rather suddenly. There is some unrealized tension that builds up with an older character in Benji’s life, possibly the leader of the local gang? This is set up but never really plays out. And the directors take it sort of easy on the lead character. I would love to have seen more conflicted or more cutthroat (like in The Shape of Things). Also the last 10 minutes of A Brixton Tale feels like a year of time compressed that again feels like it could have been expanded (or possibly left out). Like Leah, Carey and Desrochers seem uninterested in consequences. What happens to Benji at the end (no spoilers) is barely touched upon. Still this is a compelling film that is worth a watch. The two performances are so layered and perfectly in tune with each other, that it is just beautiful to watch these two actors work across from each other. Maybe that’s part of why I wanted more. Also, just a general shout out to the overall production of the film. Cinematography, editing, production design, everything seems perfectly realized for telling this Tale. There is none of that hey-let’s-just- make-a-movie ethic that seems to be inherent in a majority of the Slamdance program.
Author’s Note: A Brixton Tale screened as part of Slamdance 2021. In 2019, Slamdance awarded a Grand Jury prize to Nicole Brending’s Dollhouse: The Eradication of Female Subjectivity in American Popular Culture, a film called out for transphobia by over a dozen critics (See here here here and here for examples) Slamdance has yet to issue an apology. The UK organization TransActual has a great explanation of Transphobia and other useful resources in case you would like to know more.
– Bears Rebecca Fonté (@BearsFonte)