SUNDANCE 2020 FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW! Sometimes filmmaking is about taking advantage of an opportunity placed in front of you. In director Carlos López Estrada’s Summertime, the opportunity was to spotlight the words of 25 young poets from Los Angeles, give them the chance to share their story and experiences through the spoken word, and strings it all together in a single cinematic piece of art.
The idea is simple, through drama and comedy, Estrada establishes a setting for each poet, and then they do what they do. On a bus ride, a young man is mortified by two older women being affectionate to one another, which prompts another young woman to share about being gay. A young adult is thrust into an impossible situation at his fast-food job and waxes poetic about the long hours, low wages in a dead-end job. One young lady musters the courage to confront a guy she once loved.
Two threads tie the poems together throughout the movie. The first thread is one of the breakout personalities Tyris Winter, who starts with sort of a slam-poetry Yelp review about the poor service and high prices at a local posh eatery. He’s then seen moving from one establishment to another including a Korean restaurant and then finally to a heartbreaking piece about home. Then for some much-needed levity, there are two wannabe rappers seeking notoriety as they find stardom rapping about how much they love their mother. These two threads are used to create transitions from one piece to the next, similar to the “and now for something completely different” transitions from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
“…spotlight the words of 25 young poets from Los Angeles, give them the chance to share their story and experiences…”
As a native Angelino myself, Summertime is a celebration of Los Angeles and that lifestyle and attitude which is specific to Los Angeles. They avoid the clichés of the upscale living of Beverly Hills or the gang-infested street made infamous by Hollywood. Its locales are familiar to us natives, even the buses. It celebrates the diversity of life and experiences one expects by living here.
I’ll admit, I’m not much of a poetry fan and far be it from me to cast judgment on what makes good or bad poems. Also, a film this loaded with distraught millennials makes my eyes roll…c’mon ”young people.” It’s not like that. What I can say though is that for each poet, their message is personal and heartfelt. You feel what they feel and can relate to what they’re saying — never overselling their struggles to old folks like me.
Ultimately the success of Summertime comes from director Estrada and his crew, who put the film together with a small semblance of a story. They masterfully piece each poem and poet together like a jigsaw puzzle. Visually, it’s beautiful. Transitions are clever, considering how little time they had to make them. The music is impressive and enjoyed by anyone willing to give poetry a chance. Summertime is an art piece that deserves our attention.
Summertime screened at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.