The film also marked Jenkins as the enfant terrible of an emerging genre. Mumblecore films are low-budget and star nonprofessional actors. They feature improvised, hard-to-hear dialogues and document the listless lives of their out-of-college but not quite grown-up characters. The genre got its unofficial start in 2002 with Andrew Bujalski's movie Funny Ha Ha.

Film school was the quirky, creative melting pot that Jenkins had dreamed of as a child growing up in a Miami still segregated by what he calls "invisible barriers" between neighborhoods and races. And although he came home to work during the summers, Jenkins looked forward to his first day back on campus, behind his camera.

After graduating from FSU, Jenkins moved to Los Angeles to work as an assistant to Darnell Martin, a young female director then making Their Eyes Were Watching God. When the movie wrapped, he took a job with its production company, Oprah Winfrey's Harpo Studios. Both jobs paid well: enough to send his ailing mom occasional checks. But Jenkins was miserable. Long hours reading other people's scripts left no time to develop his own ideas.

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.

Location Info

Map

Knight Concert Hall

1300 Biscayne Blvd.
Miami, FL 33137

Category: Performing Arts Venues

Region: Midtown/Wynwood/Design District

Details

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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"I got to the point where I thought maybe I'd never make another film," he says.

After a year at Harpo, Jenkins quit. He cashed his 401K, divided his furniture among friends, and gave his 1999 Ford Taurus to charity. With five grand in savings — and saddled by a lifelong fear of flying — he plotted a path around the country by train. First stop: San Francisco.

The city was the anti-L.A.: damp, dense, and foggy, its streets lined with dive bars and cafés instead of palm trees and power-lunch locations. Jenkins loved it. He stayed with friends, sat in coffee shops, and started cranking out scripts with his yellow notepad and red ballpoint pen.

Soon he fell hard for a young single mother named Cassandra Mayall. When she dumped him a year later, the ill-fated relationship became the fodder for Medicine for Melancholy: The couple's conversations about interracial dating are reproduced nearly word for word in the film. Jenkins also littered the movie with homages to her. For instance, "Jo" is Mayall's middle name.

"For me, obviously there's a connection to the movie that can't be experienced by anyone else," Mayall says. "I still cry every time I watch it." The two have discussed getting back together, but Jenkins admits he's still stung by the breakup. He made sure Mayall saw Medicine for the first time on the big screen.

But in confronting the rarely discussed issues of race and class just as Barack Obama was running for president and the real estate bubble was bursting, the intensely personal film also found universal appeal.

Cenac, Medicine's leading man, says he could relate to the film's focus on gentrification, which he saw in his own neighborhood in L.A. He also understood his character's preoccupation with labels like "black," "white," and "hipster."

"Comedy is a world where there aren't a lot of minorities," Cenac says. "So I get that. I've been that guy at the party and seen another woman across the room who looks like me, and thought, We have the same skin color; we should get married."

But the film is not about angry black men, Cenac says. "It's very easy to compartmentalize that film and think that's just a feeling that black men have. But everybody has this idea in their head what love should be. When they think they've found it and that person doesn't return that feeling, it sucks."

Medicine for Melancholy was a personal triumph for Jenkins, but it sure as hell didn't make him rich. The year the movie came out, he scraped by on $15,000 from stocking clothes at a Bay Area Banana Republic. In 2009, when he sold the film to IFC, he used the almost $100,000 to pay back the movie's producers and the musicians whose songs they had used.

The critical success of Medicine left Jenkins in a director's no man's land: unable to retreat to his normal life but still needing another break. When the offers did arrive, they were often to direct someone else's script — an idea Jenkins abhorred — or to direct more mainstream "black" films like those of Tyler Perry.

"It's all about the box office," Jenkins says.

Of course, he has his own bills to pay. In the two years since selling Medicine, it's become increasingly difficult to turn down six figures in favor of pet projects like Chlorophyl. Last month he says he rejected an offer to direct a feel-good, music-related film for one of Hollywood's biggest studios. It would have paid him $250,000 and come with a budget of $10 million — 200 times his largest production to date.

"Jesus Christ," he sighs. "I do think about the money sometimes. Not just turning down the project but turning down a job that lucrative. I'm seen as an independent, artsy-fartsy director right now. But I feel guilty about it. Who am I to turn down an opportunity like that when my mom, sister, brother could use that money?"

Jenkins has, however, signed onto several other projects. He has agreed to direct one of four parts of an adaptation of Will Eisner's gritty 1978 graphic novel, A Contract With God. And he has begun the third draft of a script for Focus, the studio behind Oscar winners Brokeback Mountain and Milk. "I can't say more about it because the subject of the film is still alive," Jenkins says inscrutably. The film would pay Jenkins 250 grand and come with a multimillion-dollar budget.

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