Barry Jenkins sure knows how to tell a story. With images and words that reach out to our emotions, the 31 years old writer & director was able with his first feature ‘ Medicine for Melancholy’ to tell of a beautiful and unexpected romance … Since then he’s worked on other brilliantly executed projects like ‘Tall Enough’ for Bloomingdales and most recently ‘Chlorophyl’.
We had a chat with him and it went a little something like this.
1. Tell us a bit about yourself, who is Barry Jenkins?
I’m a filmmaker living in San Francisco. That’s more or less the gist of it, I’ve been reading quotes lately. Or rather, I’ve been coming across them, they seem to be everywhere and this one I’ve read recently has stayed with me so the “who I am” question gets only that succint answer. “Ask yourself: ‘Who am I?’ Invariably the internal answer will be autobiographical—an identity based on the past. It will be a description of a continuity from childhood through adolescence to adulthood which is all past memories and no longer exists. Memory is the mirror and we live on the wrong side. Seldom will anyone answer the question of ‘Who am I?’ with: ‘I appear to be the process of reading this page.” — Yatri, Unknown Man
2. Growing up what did you want to be / do?
A lawyer for the longest while. Seems strange to me now, as a grade schooler that was my answer. By college, I’d decided to teach, a high school English teacher was how I saw myself. It’s a great profession, very thankful for the English teachers I’ve had throughout my life. Molders and shapers.
3. Tell us about your creative process? Who / what inspires you?
I’m inspired by so many things, I wouldn’t know where to begin. There’s so much noise in our lives, all this technology we surround ourselves with, so much stimulus. Sometimes it feels like noise, a great wall of noise. And then you filter based on intuition, pick the bits of noise that elicit a noise from you and take it from there.
And then there are windows. Right now, I’m sitting in a window writing this and in the parking lot across the street there, two lovers are circling a car having an argument. This is a hotel parking lot. Workers and guests are starting their day (it’s morning) and one by one each of them inspects the couple, gauges the situation, moves on. The couple have settled now, they’ve gotten the worst of it out and have settled into the car. This scene I’ve just watched can be spun so many ways. It’s… undoubtedly inspiring. I’m forever looking out of windows. There’s so much out there.
4. What’s your work philosophy?
I want to work on things I care about, preferably with people I care about. That’s as far as I’ve gotten. My philosophy for how to work is to embrace intuition. Not to be unformed but to embrace intuition that arises from the study, the diligent engagement of the subject or theme I’m working at. I’ve grown up loving American football, it’s my first love and passion, as a boy my earliest memories are of grass and feet and a mess of play on the football field. Recently I’ve come to appreciate soccer, the other football, and I think the way intuition rules on the field of play in that game, preparation and practice giving way to intuition over the flow of a half. That’s how I approach working: let’s figure out what we’re gonna do… and then never think about it again once we’ve begun.
5. The Borscht Film Festival commissioned one of your last projects the short ‘Chorophyl’. How was it filming in Miami, now that you call San Francisco home?
Amazing. I had the best time and felt free in a way I haven’t in the longest. I wrote no dialogue for this film save the voice-over narration, something I’ve never done. None of the performers had acted before; the lead I cast via Facebook after meeting her at a party two-years prior. I went with my gut through the entire process of making Chlorophyl.
6. Who are some of the artists who’ve influenced your work?
James Baldwin. Claire Denis. Wong Kar Wai. Henry Roy. Gus Van Sant. Steven Soderberg. Carlos Reygadas — there’s an interview he gave to BOMB magazine that I carry with me at all times, that I handed out to the crew as we shot Chlorophyl. Amazing. Glenn Ligon. Lynne Ramsay. Josh and Bennie Safdie. Micheal Winterbottom. Malik Hassan Sayeed. It’s not a definitive list, things come on and go off (though can anything ever come off such a list? Once you’ve been inspired by a thing it stays with you, it’s always in there). Stars of the Lid. Agnes Martin. Charles Burnett. Sebastian Silva. Cao Guimarães. This is getting ridiculous though, I’ll stop there.
7. What else do you have in store for us?
I need to get my next feature together. I’m working very hard on a couple things and hope to get back to feature making soon. I’ve done four short films since Medicine, never expected to make so much short-form content or to have this much time pass between features. I’ve helped start a company in the interim, Strike Anwyhere Films, and together we’ve gotten ourselves going on commercial work in a way that’s opened me aesthetically in completely unexpected ways.
8. A new feature, a short-film?
Both. Features are the ultimate goal, a constant aspiration. The shorts just seem to arise, I never plan them, never decide to make a short film. They just… happen. I love making things. I’m hard on myself. Knowing this doesn’t alleviate a thing. And I can be a pretty down person, these moods come upon me from time to time like an itch or a memory but… knowing what you love is the best antidote. Thus, in the present and future I will continue to just make shit. And I will pay less and less attention to the past. The ideal state is making.
9. What’s playing on your Ipod these days?
I’m just gonna do that thing where you list the first ten tracks that play.
Flwrpt + Lemu – The Sound of a Brooklyn Summer (great mix, get it here)
Rachels – Honeysuckle Suite
Gypsophile – Devant des fleurs singulières
Sleepy’s Theme – Can’t Let Go
Sufjan Stevens – Get Real Get Right
Clifford Smith – 11 11 11 011_6
TV On The Radio – No Future Shock
Young Scamels – Bring Forth A Wonder
Andre 3000 – E.T.
Isley Brothers – Who’s That Lady (original version)
Good lord what a crazy mix!
Barry Jenkins elsewhere…