In the impressive roster of acting talent paid tribute to by the current SBIFF model — Bill Murray, Carey Mulligan, Sacha Baron Cohen, Amanda Seyfried (showing up, Zoom-side on Friday night), and others — Delroy Lindo’s was distinctive on several fronts. Yes, he was the one black star of the single-tribute list this year, but he was also the only one not kissed by an Oscar nomination, although many have balked at the Academy’s snub, given his stunning performance in Spike Lee’s Da 5 Bloods, about Vietnam Vets returning to the scene of battle for a cathartic encounter.
To boot, Lindo is a vastly respected member of that ambiguous category of mostly “character actor” roles, who was more than ripe for his close-up in 2020, which Lee afforded him last year. The role came on the heels of multiple other Lee “joints” showcasing Lindo, including Malcolm X, Crooklyn (in which he played a character based on Lee’s father), and Clockers.
A few things we knew, or learned about, him during the “American Riviera Award” event moderated by Variety editor Anne Thompson: Lindo, born in England to Jamaican parents, studied acting in San Francisco and has long been steeped in the legacy and the work ethic example of theater work, which he regularly cites as a formative influence in whatever medium he is engaged in.
Lindo’s filmography is rich and varied, rippling with memorable scenes that have etched him in our film consciousness, even in the compacted moments he often seizes in a filmic canvas. Among the Lindo work capturing the cinematic collective memory were David Mamet’s Heist, Lasse Halstrom’s The Cider House Rules, and Barry Sonenfeld’s Get Shorty — about which Lindo remembered Barry said to him, “‘Just keep talking, no pauses.’ That was somewhat challenging for me, but that contributed to the rhythm of this character.”
One of the many clips screened during the tribute was a heated discussion aka fight between the married couple in Crooklyn, sparring theatrically with Alfre Woodard. As he explained, “The beautiful thing about that scene is that it was improvised. That morning, we got there very early. The broad outline was sketched. Alfre and I and Spike were in the room on-set and we improvised on set. Every time we found something that worked, the script lady wrote it down. That’s incredibly rewarding when it works. That’s an example of Spike having confidence in his actors. He knew we could come up with something.”
He has also benefited from a steady flow of work on television, going back to the era before the medium was considered hip or artful. “The challenge of television,” he noted, “is that it is really fast. What I am challenged to do in television is prepare, prepare, prepare. When one shows up on set, you have to be ready to work. The speed is such that, if you’re not ready, you’re going to have a problem. It has compelled me to go back into my theater training, acutely, so I am confident when I show up on set, I’ve done as much as I can to be prepared.”
He applied his fierce preparation principle to a now-famous scene in Bloods, in which he gives us a potent, camera-facing and in-your-face monologue not easily forgotten. “Spike had given me fair wanting that I would be speaking directly to the camera,” he explained. “Because I was given fair warning, I committed the words to memory, because I didn’t want to be fumbling for the words when it came to that scene. Any time I was on set, and had a bit of time, I would go and work on the monologue. By the morning we did that scene, I was as ready as I could be. We did a number of takes of the monologue, which found its own rhythm. At one point, I heard Spike say to someone, ‘Leave him alone, he’s in the zone.’”
Lindo dedicated the film to “all the black and brown vets, whose stories never get told on film.”
Film composer and jazz artist Terrence Blanchard, another Lee collaborator over multiple “joints” (who did get an Oscar nod, for his Bloods score), did the zoomy honors of giving the “American Riviera Award” to his comrade. At the end of his generous acceptance speech, in which he was careful to thank those deserving, including his longtime wife, Neshormmeh, and son, Damiri, and acknowledged “extraordinary creative highs and some gut punches that I didn’t see coming,” Lindo summed it up thusly: “Despite everything, my mantra is, ‘Can’t stop, won’t stop.’ Onwards and upwards.”
DOCS AT NOON, DRIVE-IN STYLE: This year’s largely virtual SBIFF has been both a great escape, solidarity, and a weirdly detached, amorphous experience, compared to the Before Times (and the After Times). Apart from the daily schedule of drive-in screenings by the sea (free to the public, by reservation — or really just by showing up), screening times are fluid, subject to one’s own whims, and a challenge to one’s sense of discipline. Whereas, normally, the avid fest-goer clutches the program booklet or smart phone app and carefully plotting a pathway through the day, racing back and forth from the Metro to the Fiesta Five, Lobero, or Arlington, chained to the schedule. And happily so.
Circa 2021, the inner slacker can gloss over strict time-space continuums and best-laid scheduling plans can be easily retooled. We learn anew that a program-enforced structure can be a beautiful thing.
For whatever reason, I’ve been showing up at the drive-in at noon (no longer forced to actually get up for the 8:30 “Breakfast Club” screening times), and enjoying the docs slotted into that time frame. Two recent examples of note take on large subjects in entertaining, informative ways. Robin Hauser’s $avvy savvily addresses the historical inequity of the financial world for women, while also stating a strong case for the strength of women working in finances, citing historical models and creating a compelling, visually sparkling and substantive filmic argument.
The Revolution Generation, dazzlingly assembled by the Ojai-based husband-and-wife team of Josh and Rebecca Tickell, takes on an even vaster canvas, exploring the forces from the past, present and future in molding the headless beast that is the Millennial generation — some 80 million strong in America. Boldly countering the notion that said generation is comprised largely of lazy, entitled narcissists, the film takes a sweeping historical view of the cyclical flow of “generations and turnings,” according to noted author and theorist Neil Howe, and how the Millennials are both the recipients of past legacies and in synch with the concept of recurring phases and an 80-year cycle. (Read our interview with Josh Tickell here.)
The film’s range of touch points are almost too numerous for a single film, from criminally high student debt to the downside of social media, the Occupy movement, Me Too, Black Lives Matter, Standing Rock, Bernie-mania, AOC, Greta Thunberg, a persuasive presentation by actor-activist Michelle Rodriguez, and Shailene Woodley, who addresses the biggest elephant in the room, shabbily dealt with by OK Boomers: climate change. She asks the pressing question: “Are we willing to save our species? That’s what it has come down to.”
So much for charges of narcissistic sloth. The things we learn at the drive-in….
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