Monday, May 01, 2006

Ebertfest Report: Somebodies

I am slowly awakening to real life after being immersed in Roger Ebert's Overlooked Flim Festival. Friday and Saturday were so hectic that I had no time to blog and Sunday, after the last movie was over about 3:00 p.m. was spent getting caught up with chores and newspapers. I will try to put up reports on the rest of the movies I saw over the next several days.

Somebodies, shown on Friday afternoon, was referred to several times as "pre-overlooked" because it hasn't been released yet. It was one of the two best movies I saw at the festival. It was written , directed and the main character was played by a young man who refers to himself as "Hadjii." I have a prejudice against people who call themselves by only one name, but Hadjii seems like a likable young fellow and not at all pretentious. For one thing, he doesn't pretend to be an expert on movies or how they are made. He confessed in the discussion after the showing that he hasn't watched many movies; he mainly watches television.

Nate Kohn, a local boy made good and director of Ebertfest, teachs film studies at the Unversity of Georgia. Hadjii came up to him at the very first class he taught and gave him a writing sample, the screenplay of a Seinfeld episode, which Kohn thought was brilliant. Kohn was struck by Hadjii's talent, but suggested he write about what he knew. Hadjii's first efforts with Somebodies was as a proposed television series, and efforts were made by Kohn and others to sell that to television. Those efforts were unsuccessful. Hadjii attended Ebertfest two years ago and was inspired by a film shown then called Tarnation. After seeing that film, which cost around $200 to make, Hadjii decided he could do it too, and told Kohn, "It's time to make a film. Set a date." They decided to just make the movie, no matter how much money they had. And they did. The movie they made was an official selection at the Sundance Film Festival, an honor received by only one out of 500 or so movies submitted.

Authenticity (or at least what appears on screen to be authentic) is big with me and Sombodies has it. It's about a young man in college who is interested in women and parties and who seems to be headed down the path of alcoholism until gradually a good cop and a good woman get him to start taking life more seriously. This makes the movie sound preachy, which it is not, although it has a lot of good black preaching in it.

Hadjii pokes fun at black people, but he also deftly skewers white people, particularly with a scene in which a very pale teacher in a "Black History" class has students write about their most inspirational black person. The class is composed of 15 or 20 white students and Hadjii, the lone black. Every one of the white students talk about how inspired they are by Martin Luther King, while Hadjii wrote about his friend, Mario, and goes on a long comedic riff, insulting Mario's mother, culminating with Mario's father's best compliment of his mother with "She's the best $5 I ever spent."

The plot, is not the main thing about this movie. As Ebert said in his introduction, this is "observational comedy. We laugh because people are like that." Ebert said the movie has structure, although it is not obvious structure, and it creates interest with free-standing episodes. Hajiid said that his first version focused mainly on five black college friends. "That was rougher," he said. As he got older, he decided that no one wants to watch a movie about five guys sitting around smoking weed, so he added church and family scenes to the movie. The third version came after he decided to creat a part for Kaira Whitehead. Hadjii said that he made the movie edgy enough to keep his street friends interested and warm enough so that his Mother would enjoy at least some of it.

I doubt that the movie will ever make it to general release except on DVD, but I highly recommend getting a copy as soon as it is available. I gave it five stars.

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