At this very moment, NWFF is screening two important films. The first, Medicine for Melancholy, examines a slice of the black American experience in the urban context—San Fransisco; the other, Ballast, a slice of the black American experience in the rural context—the Mississippi Delta. Both films have an art-value rather than a commercial-value. Both films do something new with music. The first, Melancholy, is scored by white indie electornica/rock; the second, Ballast, has no music. Each of these moves (white music or no music) has a startling result because each constitutes a break from the long cinematic tradition of (often profitably) linking black images with black music—black America's most celebrated contribution to American culture. To break with this tradition or code—black images/black music—is to effectively do something new and create ways or openings to unforeseen (or unusual) structures of black American feeling.
Medicine for Melancholy, however, is a masterpiece. It is the most important film by a black American director, Barry Jenkins, since Charles Burnett's To Sleep With Anger, black American cinema's highest achievement.
Melancholy also generates many, rich comparisons. A.O. Scott of NYT saw it as a "mash-up of Before Sunrise and She’s Gotta Have It." Dennis Lim, also of NYT, compared it to Old Joy, Ballast (of course), Chop Shop, and, yes, Police Beat. To this list I want to add Wayne Wang's Chan is Missing, which, like Melancholy, is at once a fictional and nonfictional account of the city of San Fransisco at a specific time—the early-80s, in the case of Chan; the late-OOs, in the case of Melancholy.
This week, the director of Melancholy is opening and closing the screenings at NWFF. Do not miss the chance to hear the thoughts of a man who has produced a work that the future will certainly recognize as a significant event in the history of black American art.