The year is 2017 and the Cabaret Law is still in effect in New York City. Enacted in 1926 during Prohibition, the law states that any business serving food and drink must pay for a license in order to also allow their patrons to dance. This prohibitive law proved to be inherently racist as it hurt minority run businesses in poorer neighborhoods, especially those who couldn’t afford the fee. And now the days of this obscure but hurtful law are numbered.
Written and directed Christina Kallas, Paris is in Harlem takes place during the final days of the Cabaret Law. It follows various characters, all of whom eventually visit the Paris Blues, a legendary Jazz bar in Harlem once run by Samuel Hargress Jr. to whom the film is dedicated. Much like with Kallas’ film The Rainbow Experiment, Paris is in Harlem employs split screens, cuts and varying perspectives to offer the viewer a multi-character mosaic. While there are many storylines, everything is anchored by the ongoing angst caused by institutional racism, the threat of gun violence, cancel culture and the Cabaret Law. Even tackling these heavy subjects, Paris is in Harlem is a film brimming with hope and joy. It serves as a reminder the power of community and human connection.
Paris is in Harlem premiered at the 2022 Slamdance Film Festival.
Ever watch two people in public who are deep in conversation and wish you were able to hear what they were saying? Filmmaker Quincy Rose gives us just that opportunity with his new movie The Narcissists. A meta exploration on filmmaking, romantic relationships and friendships, this film makes us the fly on the wall of two separate sets of conversations. First there is the conversation between Oliver (Quincy Rose) and Max (Zachary Tiegen). Oliver is at a crossroads in his 5 year relationship with his girlfriend Cassi (Jessica DiGiovanni). Their apartment lease is up and they must come to the decision of to either move on from each other or to continue investing in their relationship. Max is the polar opposite of Oliver and has is always on the hunt for his next fleeting sexual conquest. Through their extended conversation, Max pushes Oliver to evaluate his relationship with Cassi. At the same time, Cassi is in conversation Letty (Augie Duke). Cassi is mild-mannered and consumed with conflicting thoughts on what to do about her relationship with Oliver. She’s also feeling the guilt of having cheated on Oliver. Letty is a free spirit, the female equivalent of Max, and is constantly provoking Cassi with outrageous statements and declarations, encouraging Cassi to think differently about sexuality and monogamy.
What makes this film meta is that Oliver is a filmmaker and the two parallel conversations are his idea for a new film he his making which is both about and not about himself. The beginning of the film is shot in black and white with Max and Oliver discussing the idea for the film. Then we see the actual film Oliver had in mind. Once we reach the end of that feature within a feature, left open-ended so the audience can decide the fate of Oliver and Cassi, we get to the interview portion of the film. The four characters become talking heads where they discuss their lives, relationships and what they think about the definition of the term narcissists.
One of my biggest complaints about films in general is that we don’t often get to spend enough time with the characters. I love that The Narcissists lingers enough to fully develop this quartet of players. It takes its time to flesh out their conversations, to show us the confrontations, the agreements, the disagreements, and the ups and downs of long form conversations. These characters really talk and the flow of discourse feels natural. There were a couple of times, especially with Max and Letty where I felt like they pivoted too drastically to some out-of-the-blue provocation. Otherwise it felt like I was watching real people having real conversations. The characters are all unlikable but this didn’t affect my curiosity.
The film was shot in Manhattan and Brooklyn and cinematographer Jason Krangel keeps a very still camera with long lingering shots. The subjects are filmed from afar in real settings with pedestrians and cars often blocking our view. The movie was shot on a small budget over five days and with a skeleton crew.
The Narcissists is a contemplative study on filmmaking and relationships that is not afraid to spend time with its characters. It’s inventive, quirky and oddly satisfying. In an age of quick cuts and short attention spans, The Narcissists offers something refreshingly different.
Gravitas Ventures has released The Narcissists is on VOD and the films is available on multiple platforms including iTunes.
“I don’t know how to love… If I could start all over, would I do the same thing?”
Ekaj (Jake Mestre) arrives in New York City after fleeing his emotionally abusive father. He’s a young beautiful gay teen looking for his place in the world. Unfortunately the cycle of abuse continues. He gravitates towards men who take advantage of his vulnerable state including his new boyfriend Johnny (Scooter LaForge), a narcissistic painter who exploits Ekaj for his own twisted pleasure. One day in the park, Ekaj meets Mecca (Badd Idea), a fellow hustler. In Mecca Ekaj finds a kindred spirit and the two quickly bond. Their friendship is the only truly good situation in their lives. Mecca suffers from AIDS and drug addiction. Ekaj escorts to make money which has the unfortunate affect of exposing him to more physical abuse. Can Ekaj find some semblance of stability and contentment?
“Men are very insecure. I hate men. I even hate myself.”
Ekaj is a modern day Midnight Cowboy. It’s raw, gritty, sensitive, organic and real. The camera gets right up into the faces of its subjects and we can’t help but be emotionally invested in Ekaj. The film was written, directed and produced by Cati Gonzalez and features an all-male cast. This makes for an interesting gender dynamic having a female POV on the lives of men. The two leads are of Puerto Rican descent and I love that this is an indie film by a female filmmaker with queer Latino characters. The scenes between Jake Mestre and Badd Idea are really the heart of the film. Their tender friendship is beautiful to see even in the midst of their harrowing struggles. Ekaj serves a window into the world of a marginalized community and encourages the viewer to find some empathy within themselves.