by Jaie Laplante, Director of Programming
This week in Telluride and Toronto, Miami native Barry Jenkins’ new feature film set and shot in Miami, Moonlight, is debuting, and the early reactions have been powerful from critics and festival audiences. It’s the first production financed by the 3-year-old distribution company A24, who in their short history have already won Oscars (for Room and Amy) and their ability to translate awards-season buzz into profitable returns is beginning to recall the heyday of Harvey Weinstein’s golden touch. A week in, A24’s roll-out of Moonlight is already looking equally impressive. Moonlight is a most important moment for Miami’s cinematic representation. It’s about a Miami that has never been put on screen on this scale before.
Moonlight is overwhelmingly personal. It tells the story of an African-American Liberty City boy named Chiron at three stages in his life – as a child, a teenager, and then an adult in his 20s. The story is about creating your life, your character, and who you are going to be.
The movie is scaled like a short story – only scenes that move the emotional thrust of the narrative forward are included – but one with an epic vision of life. Moonlight becomes a story of black masculinity in America. One of the supporting characters, a Cuban-born drug lord named Juan (soulfully played by Mahershala Ali), has a line of dialogue where he talks about black people being everywhere you go, because black people were the first people on the earth. And Moonlight is all black – there are no major characters that are white, because this is not a film about the black experience in relation to the white experience.
The brilliance of Moonlight is in how deeply multi-dimensional Jenkins writes his characters, using dialogue only where it is honest to do so, and the very fine work he does with a superb cast of actors who bring the nuances to a raw and unnervingly vulnerable light. Especially good is the through-line between the 3 actors playing Chiron – young Alex R. Hibbert, teenage Ashton Sanders, adult Trevante Rhodes (a former University of Texas track star). Chiron’s mannerisms, his haunted lonely look behind hooded eyes, his loner streak that leads him to say little or next to nothing while he waits for something he can recognize in life as being him – with economic gestures and camera angles, Jenkins captures an entire man’s life in just a few short strokes. Moonlight’s strong, unshakable structure is exceptionally well-represented in A24’s poster – the three Chirons are splintered to make up the one Chiron, astutely capturing Moonlight’s most essential underlying theme.
Barry Jenkins grew up here, as did Tarell Alvin McCraney, who provided the source material for Jenkins’ screenplay. Both artists left Miami to study at college elsewhere (after McCraney studied at New World School of the Arts), and have gone on to live and work in San Francisco (for Jenkins) and Chicago and New York (for McCraney). But by returning to tell the story of Moonlight, Jenkins and McCraney have done what deeply compassionate artists do best – this film will help our fractured city and communities heal, find a common ground of pride, emotion, and faith in each other.
MOONLIGHT WILL HAVE ITS INTERNATIONAL PREMIERE ON SATURDAY, SEPT 10TH AT TORONTO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL. IT WILL OPEN COMMERCIALLY IN MIAMI THEATERS ON OCTOBER 28TH, INCLUDING O CINEMA WYNWOOD AND REGAL SOUTH BEACH STADIUM 18.