Do you remember? The feeling you had when your aunt or grandmother dispensed words of wisdom to you on a sunny Saturday afternoon? The many times your father or mother gave you advice you’ve remembered and cherished forever? Ava DuVernay’s “I Will Follow” recalls those blissful, effervescent feelings with depth, nuance and clarity.
Supremely beautiful and tender, “I Will Follow” looks at life and grief with more joy and triumph than sorrow. This great, effective drama, which opened today in San Francisco at the AMC Metreon, is about absorbing love and cherishing its finest moments. Based on the true story of Ms. DuVernay’s late aunt, “I Will Follow” finds Maye Fisher (Salli Richardson-Whitfield) trying to pick up the pieces after the loss of her aunt Amanda (Beverly Todd), who helped raise her. Love, or the absence of it, will shape Maye. We find out that Amanda adored U2 as does Maye — and Ms. DuVernay. The film’s title belongs, fittingly, to a U2 song that Bono wrote about his dying mother.
Readying a move from the Los Angeles home she lived in with her aunt, Maye examines items of sentimental value and is overwhelmed by the vibrancy and simple pleasures of Amanda’s life. Maye, it turns out, was much closer to Amanda than Amanda’s daughter Fran (Michole White). Naturally there’s tension between cousins Maye and Fran, a heightened state that Ms. DuVernay delicately and discreetly engineers, adding to the film’s emotional complexity.
“I Will Follow” paces almost like real-time, taking place on one day. We spend the day with Maye as she packs and unpacks memories of Amanda. Maye also deals with present-day situations including Troy (Omari Hardwick), a dear love who stops by, but not out of the blue.
“I Will Follow” is punctuated by light comedy, authentic dialogue and pop culture references. No matter the atmosphere: joyous, melancholic, tense or romantic, when you watch “I Will Follow” you are seeing people relax and exhale in their lives, comfortable in their own beautiful skins and peaceful environments, even if life isn’t always a smooth ride.
Ms. DuVernay has poured her soul and love for her departed aunt Denise Sexton, who produced the film with the director, into “I Will Follow”. Ms. Sexton died of breast cancer in 2003. Ms. DuVernay began writing the script a day or two afterwards.
The director’s first dramatic feature film has warmth and resonance. We instantly identify with the characters we see. Ms. DuVernay’s cinematic flair and storytelling skills are as graceful and wonderful as the film’s collection of finely-tuned, excellent performances, especially from Ms. Richardson-Whitfield, Ms. Todd and Mr. Hardwick. Each of them brings balance, wisdom and maturity to their work. There’s an undeniable lyricism and intelligence that shines throughout “I Will Follow”.
“I Will Follow” contemplates lives, futures and possibilities. This is an intimate film that invites and welcomes us with open arms.
We know of the delights and charms that made Amanda a special person, without focusing on the pain many similar-themed films often do. In Ms. DuVernay’s film grief isn’t wrapped up in histrionics or aching pain. (Memo: in the black community in America, death doesn’t always come at the hands of a police officer or a gang member or a wayward opportunist. Most times death comes from natural causes or health-related issues — just as in every other community.)
Filled with vivid color, earth tones and beauty, “I Will Follow” is a moving journey of love and remembrance between generations of family that leaves you feeling happy, entertained and proud to know the people Ava DuVernay introduces you to. The film is a breath of fresh air for those hungering for an alternative, diverse and genuine film depiction of everyday life in the black community. If you go to your local movie theater to watch “I Will Follow” expecting the usual shuck-and-jive, rump-shaking comedy or violence-saturated drama that you’ve had a steady diet of over the years, you’ll be sorely disappointed.
Most importantly Ms. DuVernay’s film charts a seminal course in the re-direction of black cinema and filmmaking for African-Americans. Her visions and characters are more like those we see everyday in real life than those we see far too much of these days on the big screen.
Ms. DuVernay’s AFFRM (African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement) is a beacon of positive, uplifting energy, and could end up as the quintessential go-to headquarters for a renewed wave of talented black filmmakers. AFFRM distributes “I Will Follow”, the first film in a series of self-distributed films in conjunction with AMC Independent.
Pure, honest and unwavering, “I Will Follow” is a rich portrayal of everyday black life — and everyday life anywhere, for that matter. Follow this excellent, heartfelt film into your local theater.
–At the AMC Metreon in San Francisco
With: Dijon Talton, Tracie Thoms, Damone Roberts, Blair Underwood.
“I Will Follow” is rated PG-13 by the Motion Picture Association Of America. The film includes language and some sensuality. The film’s running time is one hour and 23 minutes.
For a list of Omar’s hornface.com stories and film reviews, click here. He is a contributing film critic for “Ebert Presents At The Movies” on PBS television and also a far flung correspondent for the preeminent film critic Roger Ebert and a member of the San Francisco Film Critics Circle.
Continue reading on hornface.com: Filmmaker Ava DuVernay opens up the door to independence with ‘I Will Follow’ – San Francisco Indie Movie | hornface.com hornface.com/indie-movie-in-san-francisco/filmmaker-ava-duvernay-ope…