Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art

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PostPosted: Thu Jul 29, 2021 11:55 am 
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A little coming of age debut set in Los Angeles

This may amuse you for its naiveté at times, but it covers all the bases and succeeds in scoring with a number of intense scenes. There is a young black protagonist struggling to finish his final project to graduate from film school. His name is Travis Wolfe (Elijah Boothe), and he has some things to learn about his father, who committed suicide many years ago and whom he never knew. His mother is expecting him to return home, but doesn't understand him. His Korean American girlfriend , Kristen Lee (Ruby Park), a talented young fashion designer, has New York City in her sights, but she is living with a menacing, drug-dealing brother, Daniel (Paul B. Kim) who forbids her to see Travis again.

Pink Opaque never loses sight of the fact that it takes place in Los Angeles. A wealth of images, including drone shots, show the city's unique look and strange beauty. And after all this is about a young man who is making a movie about the city, and is constantly photographed against LA backgrounds.

Travis has been working on a film about the LA homeless population, which he cites as numbering 55,000 (some online stats put it more in the forties), but he seems stuck. His segments have a rough and grainy video look. "I like the aesthetic," he says, but the school supervisor finds it unacceptable, and once again warns him he will not graduate - which his mother struggled to support him for - if he doesn't come up with a good film pronto. Right when the deadline is down to a few days, he gets kicked out of his living situation and is forced to live out of his car. And then he's broke and it gets towed, while he's with his girlfriend.

Desperate, Travis looks up his maternal uncle Robin (the charismatic Chaim Dunbar), whom he knows to be well off. Robin lives in a posh sunny Los Angeles house, but his success as a TV writer and producer was decades ago and now he drinks too much. He has good friends but no ideas. When he meets with a comical TV impresario his concept of a series of stories around a Harlem funeral home falls flat. Desperate, he gives the guy the hard drive of Travis' unfinished unsheltered angelenos film and, glancing at it, the impresario likes it as a series idea and keeps the hard drive to show to colleagues. Robin is elated. Travis has gotten an immediate loan from Robin and overnighted at his place, but when he hears about this, which leaves him without anything for the graduation show, he is furious and desperate. But adversity leads Travis to find a solution.

Pink Opaque has few surprises but its characters are readable and the main ones are warmly appealing. Like a sports film where it all leads to the final big game, all roads in Pink Opaque end at the film school graduation, with Travis literally down to the last second finishing a new documentary on the same subject but with a much bolder and more personal slant, on which he is helped in the shooting by his former roommate. The minutes leading up to delivery of this film for the graduation screening are intercut with an exciting subplot involving Travis' girlfriend's dangerous brother Daniel, who becomes a menace to her now as well as him.

It all ends happily - though not without jolts and danger. It may be a little too neat. That is part of the naiveté - and the charm - of this upbeat tale about Los Angeles, movies, and multicultural youth. Travis, exhausted, hasn't the strength to sit through the public screening. He is out on the steps to receive accolades after the event is all over. To his surprise because relations had chilled, Robin was in the audience and not only does Travis get accolades from his classmates and approval from the director and a loving reunion with Kristen, but an emotional story from Robin about his father.

Some people definitely need a movie like this, to make it or just to see it. Its freshness and sincerity keep things from feeling too clichéd, even though its themes and characters and structure are all familiar. It does have a rather fresh take on making a film school graduation film. The idea of speaking your own truth about the subject is a valid and a currently fashionable one. And many creative efforts indeed are finished at the very last minute under an intense deadline.

For another recent film that looks at another black film student I recommend the brilliant and more formally sophisticated Residue by Merawi Gerima, which came out last December and is available on Netflix. You can see it, if you like, as depicting Travis at a later stage, when he goes home. Gerima's young recent California film school graduate who returns to the east coast suffers from survivor's guilt, alienation, and estrangement as he tries to connect with his old DC neighborhood which is undergoing gentrification. And of course everything is still ahead for Travis, too.

Pink Opaque, 90 mins., debuted Aug. 20, 2020 at American Black Film Festival (Los Angeles). US release July 27, 2021 by 1091 Pictures.(

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