DCA Film Club 15: My Josephine


9 July 2020

Welcome back to Film Club! We'll be recommending great films to watch at home, before meeting in our Facebook group or your preferred social media to chat about the film using #DCAFilmClub!

DCA Film Club sees our Cinema Team talk about our favourite filmmakers by looking at their short films. We hope they will inspire you to go off and watch something else, be it online or at a cinema near you (when it reopens of course). You can read our Head of Cinema Alice's full introduction to DCA Film Club here.

This week, Cinema Coordinator Michael Coull has chosen 2003 short My Josephine by Barry Jenkins. Read on for Michael's introduction, then watch the film for free on Vimeo. Enjoy!

Barry Jenkins appeared on most cinephiles’ radars after the release (and subsequent Best Picture win) of his 2016 masterpiece Moonlight, but he had been working in the industry for over a decade prior to this. At the time, Moonlight felt indicative of a greater shift in the types of narratives, and the voices behind these narratives, being explored in American film-making; here was a tender, aching drama made on a low-budget by a black director (the fourth filmmaker of colour in the Academy’s 92-year history to be nominated for Best Director), with a cast comprised more or less entirely of people of colour, covering ideas of masculinity, sexuality and poverty, not only being nominated for, but winning, Best Picture. It is therefore fascinating to see that today’s short film, 2003’s My Josephine, bears many of the stylistic cues which we now see as being hallmarks of Jenkins’ directorial voice, despite being made more than a decade before Moonlight.

Jenkins grew up in a rough neighbourhood in Miami in turbulent circumstances; he talks of growing up in an over-crowded apartment, where food was sometimes scarce, and it is not difficult to see the impact of this time in his life reflected in Moonlight. More or less stumbling his way onto a film course after earning a scholarship to Florida State University, he immersed himself in the variety of voices present in world cinema that he didn’t see reflected in his class-mates’ interests and the predominantly white, predominantly male ‘canon’ of revered directors. Seeking out filmmakers like France’s Claire Denis, Argentina’s Lucrecia Martel, Scotland’s own Lynne Ramsay and (perhaps most obviously influential amongst his own filmography) Hong Kong’s Wong Kar-wai galvanized Jenkins into evolving and developing his own distinctive voice.

"The film exudes a gauzy sensuality..."

I think it’s fair to say that the influences of these filmmakers can be felt in My Josephine, Jenkins’ poetic first film as director. The main character’s voice-over creates a sense of intimacy, almost as though we are being invited to share in some melancholy secret, and visually, the film exudes a gauzy sensuality with slow, deliberate editing which will be familiar to anyone who has seen Jenkins’ features. Like last week, I’ve managed to find a quote from Jenkins which sums the film up in his eyes, so I will leave you with his words.

“My first short film, photography by James Laxton, as always. Still my favorite. Written shortly after 9/11, wasn’t actually made for another year because of the way things shook out in school. Inspired by three things: the marquee of a Tallahassee laundromat shortly after 9/11 reading “American Flags Cleaned Free,” an image in my head of two people sitting atop folding tables, and my housemate at the time being obsessed with Napoleon. We were very young men when we made this film.”

Further reading and links

Barry Jenkins has directed three features, which are available to rent and buy online via the usual streaming services:

Medicine For Melancholy (2008)
Moonlight (2016)
If Beale Street Could Talk (2018)

A great 5-minute video introduction to My Josephine from Barry Jenkins.

A piece for The Atlantic, where Barry Jenkins talks about some films he has been watching during the current lockdown.

‘A Short History of Black US Indie Cinema’ from BFI, which places Moonlight in a greater historical context.

A fascinating video where Jenkins breaks down a short scene from If Beale Street Could Talk

Jenkins revisits Miami, where he grew up and was the setting for Moonlight.

Barry Jenkins’ Criterion Closet picks – it’s always interesting to hear great directors talk about their favourite films.

A BFI piece from 2017 recommending ‘Six Films You Should Watch Before You See Moonlight

A video interview with Vice which has some fantastic insights into how Jenkins uses music in Moonlight.

Jenkins talks about the work of Wong Kar-wai and the influence it has had on his own filmmaking.

The full video recording of an hour-long keynote speech given by Jenkins at South By Southwest 2018.

A nice interview from Little White Lies around the release of If Beale Street Could Talk, which touches on the political aspects of Jenkins’ work. 

A video essay by Kevin B Lee which explores Jenkins’ career before Moonlight.

An article from Medium that looks specifically at Jenkins’ short films.

A piece from Film School Rejects about My Josephine.

Jenkins talks to playwright Roy Williams about his hopes for the future of the film industry.

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