Filmmaking can be a battle, and sometimes it pays to have your friends by your side. And Oscar winner Barry Jenkins, whose “Moonlight” took home Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, and of course, Best Picture at the Oscars, has kept his colleagues close. His short student film “My Josephine” featured cinematography by James Laxton and production design by Joi McMillon, both of whom would go on to work with him on “Moonlight” (Laxton stayed behind the camera and also worked on Jenkins’ debut feature “Medicine For Melancholy,” while McMillon stepped into the editing bay with Nat Sanders, who also worked on ‘Medicine’). And it’s likely why “My Josephine” shows early signs of the talent that would only get stronger, and take Academy Award winning form.
The post-9/11 drama is heavily influenced by Wong Kar-Wai, and spins a romance that unfolds in a laundromat that washes American flags for free. Narrated in Arabic, it was an early indication of Jenkins’ desire to tell stories that typically weren’t being heard or seen in Western cinema.
“I went to school in Tallahassee, Florida, and it’s different from going to school in New York, where you have the whole city as a backdrop. Down in Tallahassee, you have to work to make the background interesting. 9-11 had happened, and it was on my mind as something I wanted to make a film about, in Florida. Through watching all those foreign films, especially as someone who didn’t speak any foreign language or know any foreign people, I got opened up to the possibility of language in cinema,” he explained to Village Voice in December. “At the time, people were saying being a Muslim or an Arab was ‘the new Black.’ So I decided to take my experience of feeling like an ‘other’ as a Black man in the South, and use that as a way to empathize with my characters. That’s where I discovered that there was a different way to approach the form, and it all came together in that short, which is kind of out there.”
It’s an interesting piece, and a nice window into Jenkins’ early interests as a filmmaker. Read his statement about the film from Vimeo, before watching it for yourself:
My first short film, photography by James Laxton, as always. Still my favorite. Written shortly after 9/11, wasn’t actually made for another year because of the way things shook out in school. Inspired by three things: the marquee of a Tallahassee laundromat shortly after 9/11 reading “American Flags Cleaned Free,” an image in my head of two people sitting atop folding tables, and my housemate at the time being obsessed with Napoleon.
We were very young men when we made this film.