“Dreaming in Black and White” is a socially conscious cross between the “Twilight Zone” and neo-western-noirs like “Red Rock West” and “U-Turn” (which I guess are themselves riffs on the ‘Zone in a way). The twist here however is that the hapless victim caught out of time happens to be black. Thus is the premise of this sparse, though undeniably powerful short film, furiously directed with much aplomb by Joseph G. Eckardt. The film is currently making the rounds on the festival circuit and has already been met with a certain amount of acclaim, taking home prizes from the Phoenix, Thunderbird International, and Oakland Film Festivals, among others. One only wonders though if the world really needs yet another indictment of the evils of our racist past. I’d like to think that we are now an enlightened people and have learned from our mistakes. And at this point, I have to concede that when one looks around at the rampant intolerance and cruelty all around us, it’s clear that we have in fact learned very little. It’s also clear that films like “Dreaming in Black and White”, while on one level mere escapist entertainments, are also vital and completely necessary.
Malik Yoba, of “NYC Undercover” and “Kingpin” fame, is riveting as Chris Jones, a modern man inexplicably lost in a very racist no-man’s land circa 1952. At the start of the film, Chris, like his cinematic counterparts in those films mentioned above, makes the fateful decision of stopping for help in some middle-of-nowhere diner. A sign on the diner’s door clearly spells it out: “No Coloreds”. Chris though, misses the sign in his haste. In the diner, Chris meets June (played by the film’s co-writer Cecily Gambrell), a haggard looking waitress who tries to help him hide. June’s efforts end up being in vain however when Chris gets clocked by Jared (S.E. Perry), the consummate white-trash anti-Christ if there ever was one. When Chris finally comes to, he is behind bars in a run-down police station. Apparently Jared has some like-minded friends on the force, much to Chris’s dismay. I won’t give away the film’s ending, though I fear its title ultimately undermines my discretion. Let’s just say that “Dreaming” is not as simple as all that.
Though it follows a familiar arc, the screenplay by Cecily Gambrell and Anthony Claverié is both sure-handed and impassioned. Yes, this is essentially a “message” film and we all know what they say about those. Yes, we expect a moving speech about hate and perhaps a guilty change of heart. And yes, the evil white folks are… well, really, really evil. Yet what you do not expect is a remarkable degree of restraint, containing the “message” to just this side of preachy. “Dreaming” is really a “message” film in the way that Oliver Stone used to make them: heart firmly on sleeve, two shots of style, one shot of substance. Just don’t underestimate that last shot though, it’s the one that usually knocks you on your a*s. Oh, and let’s not forget the skillful direction of Eckardt, who achieves a raw and authentic feel in the black and white (get it?), dream portion of the film. While not exactly a revelation, “Dreaming in Black and White” is both audacious filmmaking and a nifty turn of an old trick.
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