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Barry Jenkins, Director On All Dirt Roads Taste Of Salt’s Visual Poetry – The Hollywood Reporter


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It Was 2019 OscarAwarded writer, director, and producer Barry Jenkins Had been contacted by a friend for assistance with a residency for new artists in Tennessee.

It You would get room, board, and access to the workshops. Miriam BaleThe program is run by. Indie Memphis Film FestivalHe would then tell him and allow participants to create a script. Among The applications were Raven Jackson. It It was that Jenkins Her script would be first introduced to her. All Dirt Roads Taste Of Salt. But it wouldn’t be until a year later, while he was working on his Emmy-nominated Series The Underground RailroadIt would be his complete attention.

“Mark Ceryak, another producer here at my company Pastel, said, ‘Hey, I just read the script. It’s really beautiful, and apparently, you know the filmmaker from this program in Memphis,” Jenkins Tells The Hollywood Reporter. “I was like, ‘Oh, yeah, that does sound familiar.’ I read it and just thought right away, that we were — myself, Adele [Romanski] and Mark, were just a good place — a good home — for Raven to go out into the world and realize the vision of the script.”

The Story follows Mack?, Black Women in MississippiAs she navigates through her life, at different ages, growing up, fearing, loving and grieving, It’s a striking portrait of how a lifetime of experiences and the power of a place can ultimately shape a person. The Vision for it was first shown back at residency in Memphis in what the filmmaker describes as a different take on the pitch deck — a “collage of images she had shot herself” Her family and the community where she grew up.

“That was accompanied by the screenplay. Just the way it’s written — Raven is very clear that she is a filmmaker, but she’s a poet first. There was just something about the visuals driving the storytelling and the visuals carrying the voice that was a part of Raven’s approach to making this piece from the very beginning,” He says. “It was very anti-conventional in the structure on the page. And Raven is a very non-conventional thinker.”

Anyone Get familiar with Jenkins’ work will see why he, Ceryak And Romanski — his Pastel production company partners — were attracted to the piece. It’s above all a deeply expressive and experimental artistic journey that shines new light on the connective tissue of the Black experience.

“Sitting in the room at Sundance, before Raven introduced the film, she had all the cast and crew, she acknowledged them from the front of the stage. And it was just Black folk after Black folk after Black folk,” Jenkins Recalls of its Monday premiere. “It was very clear that this was a piece of Black art through and through. Part of that’s because it’s indicative of the community that Raven grew up in and that being the point of the film.”

While It was unveiled at SundanceThis year’s traditional festival circuit will be run by, Jenkins According to him, the roots of community are what drive Jackson’s story will not be forgotten.

“Raven’s goal with this film is to screen in as many Black communities as you possibly can. If Raven could have premiered this film in Jackson, Mississippi, or Memphis, Tennessee, she absolutely would have. The calendar with those festivals and those cities, I’m not sure they line up right now because the film is ready. But she very much made this movie for the folks in those communities,” He says. “I believe this film could play in any festival on any city on the planet and be very much at home.”

After Talk to Jenkins Following All Dirt Roads Taste Of Salt’S Sundance premiere, THR spoke to Jackson Learn more about her story and how it inspired her debut feature. Black Beyond dialogue, characters and settings

Throughout Are you confident that the people who pitch you and make them this are conceptually able to understand your message? Or They were having “huh” moments?

There There was quite a bit of the “Huh?” For sure. But It was also a great experience for some. Maria Altamirano, the producer on it from day one — both of us were very intentional about being clear from the beginning stages. We We had to create the language that describes this project so that anyone we partner with understands it. But It was clear that there was much confusion and not knowing how it worked, not knowing if it was possible, not knowing if it would work properly, not knowing if it should be simpler, all of this.

You The creation of a language was discussed. How did you do that, on something that’s so visually visceral, with your cast and crew while filming?

It starts with trust, and the foundation of trust that I had with. Maria And then Jomo Fray [the] cinematographer. We did [short] Nettles Together, which was a project that I had done before. Dirt Roads. Then This trust was reinforced as the team grew. Pastel They were the ones who protected the vision so well Barry Jenkins, Adele Romanski And Mark Ceryak. Of course, Barry We had chosen the project for the early stages of the Indie Memphis Black Filmmaker residency. In I was very conscious with my collaborators. I am a person who loves to give space. I love to tell actors on the first attempt. “I want you to follow your instincts,” and then I’ll adjust it if needed and we’ll go from there.

For Some of the longer takes were momentous where I told Jomo, “Follow what moves you, what inspires you, and I’ll tell you if I want you to move somewhere else.” It It was about creating a place where I could trust my instincts and allow my collaborators the same. I think I’m a very fluid creator. I’m a big believer in listening. I also follow my instincts and listen at every stage to what the film is asking. Just because I wrote it on the script doesn’t mean when I’m on set with the actor that it actually wants that. So listening to what’s in front of you at every stage, including the edit. We I shot more footage than what is on the film. I wrote more than was included in the final script.

There’s not a lot of dialogue in this film, which is clearly an intentional choice. Can You talk about your thoughts about dialogue and when it should be used.

It It’s back to listening. Sometimes I’d write more than what landed in the final script, but also what feels natural. Are they communicating with the dialogue here or are they actually communicating with how they’re moving between each other; how they’re touching each other; how they’re moving? Is Is it asking for dialog or another method of communication? That This was the question that I asked myself every day. And if it was asking for dialogue, that’s when I would make sure it was there, but I also wasn’t interested in being expositional. It This was the perfect balance.

Your Actors are portraying the same characters at different times. Through They all connect the story through the physicality of the performances. But Did you pay attention to visual continuity when casting or filming?

We The birthmark is on Josie. She has a birthmark on her eye, so That’s a visual thing that we continue as you see an older version of Josie that Moses Ingram plays. But I wasn’t concerned with the physicality as much as I did want folks who had a resonance with each other. It’s interesting. After I was chosen by the two young Macks And Josies — the young and then late teens to early 30s — I put their photos in a little document. Their expressions were resonant. For MackI was looking to find someone who could keep their face for many years. We’re with her from late teens to her early 30s. So someone who could believably play 17, but put her — depending on how we style her — in her early 30s.

We We were thinking strategically and intentionally about casting to ensure that these age groups are covered authentically and believeably. That It was a huge question when it came down to Mack, but also someone who, because there isn’t a lot of dialogue in the film, someone who you could sit with their face and they wouldn’t need to say anything because you know exactly what they’re feeling. That was what I was looking for. It was in Charleen McClure is someone I actually know and a friend in mine.

The sound design is a great way to fill in the gaps between the expositional moments. It also speaks volumes about your characters and where this story is set. The fire, that thunderstorm — they all really elicit emotional response the way a performance would. How These sounds were you able to capture?

I would like to send recordings Mississippi My sound designer’s name is Miguel “Maiki” Calvo. When We were location scouting or shooting, and I would sit recording the locations so that he could get an idea of how it sounds. It was a mix of production sound, as well as created sound in post that’s used in the film. But Yes, I tried to be as intentional as possible with the transitions throughout the film. So I love the sound of the thunderstorm you mentioned. It needed to be a jolt. Mack’s life is for her. It’s always trying to write another layer of the story with sound. That was something I tried to do with great care.

Was There are specific sounds to Mississippi You really wanted to be able to give your story authenticity so that others might recognize it? Or This could help people not from the region feel more at home.

I don’t know if this speaks exactly to that, but the sound of the dirt was very important to me. It feels very important to the film — as well as nights in MississippiI still recall hearing these frogs. Just Frogs make a beautiful, rich sound. So I wanted them to be consistent throughout the film. I would have notes for myself on sounds I’m hearing that I would share with a sound designer to incorporate those details. So it wasn’t one specific sound per se, but I for sure would do the scripts and also as I was in the space during shooting and during prep, taking notes for myself of what sounds are important to me.

You You have such a rich and vibrant color palette that it is easy to spot your choices in every scene. How Did you ever think of color as a way to connect your story, characters, and even time periods?

Myself, costume designer Pamela Shepard Production designer Juliana Barreto Barreto They were designed with color in mind. Specifically The color red in this film represents both birth as well as death. It was important to me because we are moving across time. So MackYou can see red bows in her hair when she is younger. Then we jump forward and you still see that she has red in her hair that’s tying her braids together. Then she’s wearing red and was wearing red. Then at the grocery store scene, they’re both wearing red. Then what’s the deepness of that red? These these are some things that I would like to talk to my colleagues about to tell that tale. With certain colors, specifically red being the dominant one, we’re telling the story. But We were deliberate with the palette. I would argue that it was the entire film.

This Film is not linear, but it connects experiences and themes, time and place in visually clear and narratively compelling ways. It It feels very natural to see identity in connective layers that cross the past, present, and future. But What would you like that approach to say?

The film is a fiction film, but there are a lot of details that speak to my life and my family’s life. This film felt like having a conversation with my family. I use, for instance, some photographs from my grandma’s photo albums on the walls of some of the scenes. The The film’s title is taken from a poem I wrote in response to a conversation I had with my grandmother about the practice of eating clay dirt. From Following conversations I had with her, much of the connection to that is in a scene from the film. Also, Rose Hill ChurchI’d like to shout it out. That It is also the church in which the wedding scene takes part. There’s so much rich history in that church and I discovered Bill Ferris’ photographs in Vicksburg, MississippiRandomly in the Strand Bookstore When I was still living in New York.

These photographs are, I believe, from the late ’60s, early ’70s. I was like “It’s perfect, but there’s no way this church is still standing.” At the time, I didn’t even realize who Bill was. He’s a very revered folklorist from the South. I reached him by cold email. He is standing at the church, so we shot it. The song you hear in our wedding scene is a song he wrote. Marian Amanda Borden, who — when the Church was still in operation — were pillars of the church. It’s like, how different generations are living on through this film in different ways. Members of my family are living on — you can see my grandma on a fridge in the background and on the walls. So that’s what I’m thinking about a lot. But I also used to believe we would shoot the film in. TennesseeHowever, as the process evolved and I realized that this was not true, Rose Hill ChurchWe decided to shoot in MississippiIt was a blessing. My Mom was originally from Mississippi. So It speaks to that sense of history and family conversation. It’s been that for me — learning more about where I come from in a big way.

Interview This article has been edited to ensure clarity and length.

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