Short films matter. Vimeo wants you to know it. So do we. That’s why every week we’ll take a look at some of the short film world’s best and brightest. This week, we bring you Barry Jenkins’ 2003 student film ‘My Josephine’.
The Plot: An Arab-American ponders life, love and Napoleon while tending to his laundromat.
The Film: Hey, remember that time Moonlight won the Academy Award for Best Picture? Me too. That win marked the first time in recent memory that the Year’s Best Film actually took home the top prize. In honor of Moonlight‘s historic win, it seems like a pretty good time to go back and see where it all began for the film’s Director Barry Jenkins. So here’s his first student film – My Josephine.
Why Press Play?
It’s always fun to look at a director’s early work. We don’t often get a chance to go all the way back to their days as a film student. It’s even rarer that their student films are as well executed as Jenkins’ My Josephine.
The film was written just after 9/11 and produced a little over a year later. According to Jenkins, it was inspired by three things – his own visual of a couple sitting on folding tables in a laundromat, his roommate’s obsession with Napoleon and a Florida laundromat that advertised free cleaning of American flags. From those disparate elements Jenkins presents equal parts political allegory and ethereal tone poem.
It’s unclear just how those elements connect until late in the film. Thoughts and concepts run through the opening minutes of My Josephine with the disjointed energy you’d expect from a student film. But as My Josephine unfolds, Jenkins begins connecting thoughts and moments in unexpected ways. The film’s disjointed energy coalesces inside of the film’s structure. And the meditative, melancholic tale that unfolds resonates on multiple levels because of it.
If you’re familiar with Jenkins’ work, then you know he’s more than adept at connecting concepts that don’t seem quite connected. He’s utilized the same narrative approach throughout his career. If you’ve seen his two feature films – Moonlight and Medicine For Melancholy – then you also know those films are focused as much on establishing a feeling as they are in telling a story. The use of color and light as concept plays a major role in establishing the emotional texture of his films. Jenkins’ ability to tell a purely visual story is what sets him apart from most up and coming filmmakers.
By that standard, James Laxton may well be Jenkins’ not-so-secret weapon. The cinematographer just earned his first Oscar nomination for Moonlight. But that was far from his first gig with Jenkins. He’s shot every film Jenkins has directed. The pair’s visual aesthetic is well on display in their first collaboration. Laxton’s symmetrical framing plays off the film’s chartreuse-hued color scheme in compelling ways. The combination lends an otherworldly emotional texture to Jenkins’ story. It’s a story as prescient today as it was 14 years ago. On its own, that makes this an important film. That My Josephine marked the beginning for one of cinema’s most exciting new directors makes it a must-see. So see it already.
Meet The Crew:
Written & Directed by: Barry Jenkins Starring: Basil Hamdan & Saba Sariat Director of Photography: James Laxton Edited by: Meghan Robertson
I hope you enjoy My Josephine! What can we say about Barry Jenkins that hasn’t been said already? His films are timely and visceral and insightful in ways that elude most of the films produced through the Hollywood machine. My Josephine is a compelling look at what was to come for Jenkins. And if you want to see more of his short form work, you can do just that over at his Vimeo page. ‘Cause Barry Jenkins still uses his Vimeo page. While you’re there, be sure to check out a few of the thousands of other short films – animated, live action and documentary – the Vimeo team have made available for your viewing pleasure (via desktop or mobile device – SWEET!). You’re sure to find something interesting and you may just stumble across the next great filmmaker.