Focus on Film: The Last Black Man in San Francisco

Are we seeing the future?

Watching this film brought back memories of films made by Spike Lee and Barry Jenkins and their portrayal of inner city black neighbourhoods and their dynamics of human interaction.

So I ask, is the writing and directing team of Joe Talbot and Jimmy Fails the future of introspective black filmmaking in the cities of America?

The Last Black Man in San Francisco is about gentrification and racism in big city America. It contrasts the privileged with the deprived, black versus white, the millennial with the boomer, and the traditional with the non-traditional.

Sometimes people believe in something so strongly they convince themselves that their thoughts transcend reality and become a delusion. Jimmy Fails, a co-writer and actor playing himself, is tied into his family and his past and holds onto his childhood memory of a house he believes his grandfather built and lived in. The house is 100 years old and is located in the newly gentrified and posh district of Fillmore.

Jimmy and his friend Mont (played by Jonathan Majors) live in a poor, neglected and deprived area of town. On a regular basis the two of them go to the house his grandfather built and work on repainting and fixing up the outside much to the chagrin of the current owners who don't quite understand why they are doing this.

When the owner of the house dies, it becomes an estate matter and the house is vacated until resolution. Jimmy and Mont decide it is their time to move into the house and after gathering up some of Jimmy's grandfather's old furniture from their aunt, they become squatters. The story is based on true life and is original and unique.

Make no mistake about it, this is an indie film with accents of alternate filmmaking. The film is not a traditional Hollywood story about relationships, the hero versus the villain, or a story conflict escalating into a happy ending. The skeleton of the story is about one person's dream of holding onto their past, however, the filmmakers focused on showing vignettes of what gentrification of traditional neighbourhoods look like, and the contrast between the privileged white people and the deprived black people.

We see white people taking their clothes off for no apparent reason, complaining about anything Jimmy says, nice or not, and seemingly offended that black people even come into their neighbourhood.

The storyline in this film is flawed. There are many memorable moments such as the skateboarding scenes through the city, the bus stop, and the theatrical play. However, a really good cinematic story is not made up of random seemingly disconnected scenes but rather takes the viewer on a ride from beginning to end where you experience their emotions, their conflicts and their journey.

Kudos need to go Adam Newport-Berra, the cinematographer, for his capturing of the colour, grit and grain of the landscapes and movement of San Francisco, and Emile Mosseri for a creative and exciting soundtrack.

I feel this film only deserves two tugboats, however, the wonderful potential the team of Talbot and Fails represent deserve to be recognized and for these reasons I give this film three out of five tugboats.

The Last Black Man in San Francisco screens at the Patricia Theatre in Powell River as part of the Cinematheque series on Wednesday, September 25 (7 pm), and Thursday, September 26 (1:30 and 7 pm).

Stephen J. Miller is a producer and creative writer in feature films and television, and past owner of repertoire movie theatres.

 
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