"OK...," Jo says cautiously.

"I mean, think about it."

"No. Let's not," she says, trying to coax him back to her side.

Jenkins and his director of photography, David Bornfriend, line up a shot while filming Chlorophyl.
Photo by George Martinez / Location provided by Real Living Residences at Cynergi Condos
Jenkins and his director of photography, David Bornfriend, line up a shot while filming Chlorophyl.
Boom operator Felix Alvarez records sound for the film.
Photo by George Martinez / Location provided by Real Living Residences at Cynergi Condos
Boom operator Felix Alvarez records sound for the film.

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Barry Jenkins’s Chlorophyl will screen this Saturday at the seventh annual Borscht Film Festival, which features 12 melody-inspired shorts and one videogame. James Francco — a robot — will host the event. Doors open at 7:30 p.m. and movies begin at 8 on April 23 at the Adrienne Arsht Center’s Knight Concert Hall, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami. General admission is free but available on a first-come, first-served basis. Tickets for orchestra-level seats cost $20 and come with a T-shirt, poster, gift bag, and temporary tattoo. Reservations at arshtcenter.org.

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"Everything about being indie is tied to not being black," Micah shouts. "People call it interracial dating, but there's nothing interracial about it. Nine out of ten times it's a person of color hanging onto a white person."

She stares at him in disbelief.

"It's always one of us clinging onto one of them," he adds spitefully. "I mean, look at you. Why the fuck you got to date some white dude?"

"Why are you doing this?" she screams. "What do you want from me? You think that just because I'm black and you're black, we should be together. We're one, right? We fucked and I didn't even want to know you. I've been spending the last 24 hours cheating on my boyfriend and you think because I'm black and you're black, that we should be back together.

"Fucking crazy," she says to herself. Fighting back tears, Jo hails a cab and leaves Micah alone on the street.

The scene is a dramatic crescendo to Jenkins's 2008 film, Medicine for Melancholy, which follows Micah and Jo around San Francisco the day after an awkward one-night stand. Jenkins's first — and so far only — feature film, Medicine deals with gentrification, romance, assimilation, and seduction.

Above all, however, it's about race. Wyatt Cenac, now on Comedy Central's The Daily Show, plays Micah, an aquarium installer constantly seething over how yuppies have dislodged poor, predominantly black San Franciscans from their own city. Despite his diatribes, Micah woos Jo (Tracey Heggins) — an elusive, artistic young woman who prefers to ignore racial issues.

Jenkins made Medicine with a minuscule crew and $13,000 borrowed from a friend. But with its focus on race and class, and its lovingly composed shots of San Francisco, the movie did the nearly impossible: It went mainstream, premiering at the South by Southwest Film Festival. From there it was picked up by the Independent Film Channel and shown in New York, London, Paris, Krakow, Vienna, and Buenos Aires. The New York Times' A. O. Scott called it one of the best films of 2009.

The movie also launched Jenkins's career. He received "Best First Feature" and "Someone to Watch" nominations from the Independent Spirit Awardsthe Oscars of the indie movie scene. Filmmaker magazine named Jenkins one of the "25 New Faces of Independent Film" and put him on the winter 2009 cover. Meanwhile, Medicine won awards at independent film festivals across the country, from San Fran to Sarasota to Woodstock. Jenkins had burst, if only momentarily, onto the national scene at the raw age of 29.

But the path to making Medicine had been littered with years of scratched scripts. Eight years before, when he had shown up at FSU's College of Motion Picture Arts, he had understood next to nothing about film.

"I didn't even know making movies required developing film," he laughs. At the time, however, Jenkins saw nothing funny about how far behind he trailed his fellow students.

The school was filled with older students, many from around the globe. "I think he felt overwhelmed by the fact that he was sitting across from a guy from Palestine who had just made a movie about conditions in the West Bank," says Frank Patterson, dean of the film school.

So Jenkins took a leave of absence to teach himself the basics. He spent nearly a year in the FSU film library, watching everything from Akira Kurosawa to Jean-Luc Godard and Claire Denis. Then he returned to class.

"He got so into it," says Garrod Copeland, Jenkins's FSU roommate at the time. "There was camera equipment everywhere. I had to leave the house for days at a time because he was always filming." Jenkins even persuaded his roomie to help him with his homework.

"He was trying to depict a dream or something like that," Copeland remembers. "He had me dress up in a plastic garbage bag and helmet. It was at night too. We were in the parking lot of our living complex, and I had to run full speed and tackle a dummy," he laughs. "It was crazy."

Jenkins didn't emerge as a top directing talent, however, until his first summer in film school, when he made an eight-minute called My Josephine. It followed an Arab man and woman working in a small-town laundromat who washed American flags for free. The movie touched on themes of otherness and assimilation. Jenkins says the characters were loosely inspired by a shopkeeper in Liberty City.

"When the Lozano riots happened, the next morning everything was looted. Broken glass was everywhere," he remembers. "The only place that wasn't looted was the corner store run by a Middle Eastern guy that my grandma called 'the Arab.'"

Shot in eerie greenish-blue tones, the short film is more a meditation on longing than a political statement. And its vivid, moody style stood out.

"That was really an eye-opener for everyone," says close friend and former classmate Mark Ceryak. "When he made My Josephine, it was like, 'Barry Jenkins has arrived.'"

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