It is not everyday you get to watch an award-winning film in a room full of strangers and then get the opportunity to ask the film's Oscar-nominated director questions about anything you want afterwards. But it was that day for me on Wednesday: in Screen 1 at HOME I sat in the middle seat of the near middle row at 8pm welcoming Barry Jenkins to the stage with a round of applause alongside fellow moviegoers after watching the film's 5.55pm showing. It. Was. Surreal.
But I am getting ahead of myself a bit so let's pause for a beat...
I approached Moonlight quite differently from my norm which is to base all preconceived notions on what the poster tells me - the art of making trailers is near on dead if you ask me. I knew far more than I would have liked going in due to all the buzz surrounding it, reading interesting articles on Barry Jenkins and watching the BAFTAs last Sunday but that did not stop me booking my tickets to see the film. I am not 100% sure why I felt compelled to know more the film's "big picture" story before seeing the film as you all know by now that I hate spoilers more than anything, but the damage was done already. So there I sat, listening to sound of the waves heralding the beginning of Moonlight, more guarded than usual, in wait of having all my assumptions confirmed in order...
Nothing I knew about Moonlight fully prepared me for what I saw: the weighted complexities of characters we have seen before but never truly known - how is that for vague descriptions?? I believe I may have out done myself *pats self on back good-naturedly*. Based on the play In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue by Tarell Alvin McCraney, a MacArthur Fellowship-winning playwright, Moonlight thrusts you into the lives of a select few living in the infamous Liberty Square in Miami, Florida - where drugs and crime are part of its charm - but more specifically into that of a young boy who is trying to understand how he fits into that world. Directed and written by Barry Jenkins (Medicine for Melancholy; Future States - Remigration; My Josephine), this film succeeded in encouraging me to let my guard down and see it for what it is because of its powerfully portrayed characters and its uniqueness.
The performances given by the cast were, in a word, entrancing and helped guide me through some of the unfamiliar shooting styles used. During the Q&A Barry Jenkins mentioned how he wanted there to be a mix of experienced actors - Mahershala Ali (Luke Cage; House of Cards) and Naomie Harris (Spectre; Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom; Pirates of the Carribbean) for example - and non-professional actors - e.g. Miami locals Alex Hibbert (Moonlight) and Jaden Piner (Moonlight) - for this film and the end result was quite magic; there are also a couple of pleasantly surprising casting choices (to me) that I won't ruin for any of you as I really enjoyed being startled by them. Barry Jenkins also shared how they could not afford rehearsals due to the rules and regulations in the States which meant the cast never met before the day of shooting which made me appreciate the work filmmakers: getting us to believe the history, connections and actuality of characters that were initially formed with words.
If you have researched this film you'll also know how close-knit some of the crew appear to be seeing as most of them have not only worked together before but some of them went to the same film school (Florida State University) as well which I think adds a lovely touch to the project's story as the film explores the meaning of family. The immersive cinematography was handled by James Laxton (Holidays; The Moment; Medicine for Melancholy) - fun fact, he is married to one one the film's producers Adele Romanski (Morris from America; War Story; Black Rock) and he's from Ashton in Manchester, UK; so to echo a member of the audience that night, 'Big up Ashton'. Joi McMillen (Sausage Party; Good Deeds; For Coloured Girls) and Nat Sanders (Girls; Laggies; Medicine for Melancholy), who based on this interview I wouldn't mind being friends with and working under, edited this film which we were told was filmed chronologically except for the scenes with Naomie Harris as due to visa issues, she could only film for 3 days. And the score was composed by Nicholas Britell (The Big Short; A Tale of Love and Darkness; Domino One) who we learned actually composed the sounds of the waves that we hear at the start of the film which I thought was amazing.
Moonlight turned out to be one of those rare films where I entered the cinema by myself and left having a discussion with people who were once strangers but I am now connected to by a story made by people passionate to get it heard. I will be honest, I didn't leave the cinema thinking, 'Everyone has to see this film immediately'. I simply left the cinema thinking. Thinking about Little, Chiron and Black; how silence can indeed speak volumes; how the essence of a person can still be seen despite changes to your outward appearance; how this version of a hard life could be for people and; how men are portrayed in general.
Moonlight illuminates the effects of love, (internal) struggles, forgiveness, true self-awareness and good food. So, if this at all sounds like a film you'd like to see then I can confirm that it is worth watching in the cinema. And if you've already seen it already I figured I'd share some of my favourite interviews so far:
FT Magazine: Barry Jenkins on Moonlight, the Oscars and Trump's America; NYFF Live: Making 'Moonlight'| NYFF54; DP/30: Moonlight, Naomie Harris; THR: Full Oscar Actor's Roundtable; DP/30: Moonlight, Janelle Monae; Variety's Playback Podcast: Barry Jenkins on 'Moonlight' and Making 'Bittersweet' Oscar History; and BAFTA || Moonlight - Film Q&A with Naomie Harris.