The mission to revolutionize Black film distribution continues with a dream-like chronicle of the vibrant but dangerous existence of African immigrant life in New York, with the third feature picked up by the African-American Film Releasing Movement (AFFRM).
“Restless City,” written by Eugene Gussenhoven and directed by Andrew Dosunmu, is an evocative drama about a young Senegalese musician hoping for his big break while trying to survive on the streets of Harlem.
The movie is currently playing at the Laemmle (Santa) Monica 4-Plex, and opens May 4 at Rave Cinemas Baldwin Hills, the Laemmle Noho7, and the Laemmle Playhouse7 Pasadena.
It also expands nationwide to theaters in Chicago, Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Detroit, and Seattle.
The film stars Sy Alassane, Nicole Grey, Danai Guria, Anthony Okungbowa (the DJ from “The Ellen DeGeneres Show”), and Babs Olusanmokun.
It’s shot by Bradford Young, who has become an emerging name in cinematography, having also composed Sundance Film Festival winner, “Pariah.”
Filmmaker Ava Duvernay, the driving force behind AFFRM, acquired “Restless” after seeing it twice at Sundance.
“Visually, and narratively, this movie took my breath away,” she said. “I couldn’t bear that it would remain on the shelf. I’ve never seen Black people photographed in such a beautiful way.”
Dosunmu, who was born in Lagos, Nigeria, segued from the fashion world — as a design assistant for the house of Yves Saint Laurent — to fashion photography, coming to prominence in the U.S. as a music video and commercials director.
As well as directing promos for artists like Isaac Hayes, Angie Stone, Common, Wyclef Jean, and Maxwell, he also worked on spots for the likes of AT&T, General Motors, Levi’s, and Kenneth Cole.
According to Dosunmu, the genesis of the film sprang from his own frustration in trying to finance another project called “Mother George.”
“Every time we thought we had the money, it fell through,” he said Dosunmu in a phone interview from New York. “I got tired of waiting for things to happen. I thought, ‘I’m a filmmaker, I should be making films.’ I just wanted to get out there, and create something. I got together with my friend Eugene, who’s from Botswana, and we wanted to look at the frustration of what it’s like for an immigrant to exist in a place like New York.”
And this time, Dosunmu took a direct approach in funding his vision.
“I went to a few people who knew my work, and amazingly they came through and we managed to shoot the film,” he added.
However, finding an actor to play the lead was more of a challenge, noting, almost in jest that he auditioned most of the cast from “The Wire.”
“Originally, I went with agencies;, young Black actors don’t get as many opportunities, but they just weren’t right — they came with a perception of who this guy was. It just didn’t feel right,” he said. “I wanted someone who embodied the character; he’s been through a lot, traveled through three, four continents. He’s got the weight of the world on his shoulders, but somehow feels this is his destiny.”
Indeed, the movie is visually arresting, although its esoteric storytelling style may make it a harder sell.
But Dosunmu isn’t phased one bit by the challenges his work may pose to audiences.
“I like the fact that people think there’s a dreamlike nature to the film,” he replied. “Most of the big films insult their audience. My film is really about questions, when you come out that’s when the conversation really begins. I want people to connect on an emotional level.”
He added: “It’s definitely exciting that it’s being released by AFFRM. I was gratified that Ava was one of the first to talk about how much she loved it. They will do it justice, and take it into the community, so it won’t just end up in some art house cinema where nobody will see it. That’s their agenda, and I’m excited about that.”