Reel Affirmations 2005
Review by Will O’Bryan
Rating: (2 out of 5)
Saturday, 10/15/2005, 7:00 PM
Feature presentation, $9 at Goethe Institut Inter Nationes
THE FIRST FEW minutes into Just Between Us, I thought I’d missed the opening credits. I was wrong. Rather, Director Ken Jackson’s style is just a bit unorthodox. Before getting to his interviews with nearly a dozen names in — if not the fore, than not too much behind it — African Americana, he lays out the history. Jackson, whose documentary receives its world premiere here, starts with short biographies of past GLBT leaders in African American cultural and politics. He gives us Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Thurston, Wallace Thurman, Bayard Rustin, Audre Lorde and James Baldwin. These bios create a sort of pre-movie-movie — a mandatory history lesson so that audiences will better appreciate what Jackson’s contemporaries have to say. Granted, it’s a history lesson more people could use.
As for the contemporaries, it’s a mix of writers, scholars, activists, etc., some noteworthy, others not so much. Jackson’s collection of talking heads all have something to say, but the format probably isn’t the best way for them to say it. Jackson poses a series of questions, which each interviewee answers. Separating perhaps five answers to one question, there is a poem, or similar piece of literature, and a loop of touching piano. Then another question and few more answers. The interviewees are always in the same place, sitting in the same chairs, at the same angle. After the first half hour, this style becomes somewhat tedious. Jackson gives his audience too much credit for paying attention. An hour into this documentary most will find themselves squirming.
The bright spots are Maurice Jamal and Sharon Bridgforth. Author of The Bull-Jean Stories, Bridgforth has a strong presence on screen, demanding our attention. Film writer-director Jamal (The Ski Trip), is simply personable, contributing piles of charm to the movie.
There are so many discussions to be had about black, queer America. With luck, Just Between Us will not be Jackson’s definitive attempt at joining that discussion.