I love attending this monthly series at Arclight Cinemas. Hosted by San Diego Film Foundation, exclusive screenings of not yet released films can be previewed.
This month featured a drama written by playwright, JC Lee and co-written by Julius Onah (director).
The prescreening cocktail buzz is already rife with questions like, “Where is Eritrea?” and “I thought Tim Roth was American”. Over by the delicious fare from Eureka! The Melting Pot, Craft Pizza Co., and sliders from Liberty Call Distilling Co. was still more buzz: “I loved Octavia Spencer in “The Help and of course, the response, “Me too!” The cinephiles are talking about a Sundance Film Festival (SFF) indie: “Luce” (pronounced like loose) which is about an adopted former child soldier from Eritrea by a highly educated Caucasian couple and the challenges their son encounters in high school when his star student status is threatened.
“Luce” is starring Oscar nominee and a Boston Society of Film Critics Award nominee, Naomi Watts. Watts is also a Boston Online Film Critics Association winner for “Birdman” in 2014. With two homes on both LA and NYC, two passports (British and Australian), two children–it’s not hard to imagine Watts cast as a global thinker, who lovingly adopts a former child soldier with her husband.
Her screen husband is British subject and character chameleon, Tim Roth. They shared cinematic parental roles once before in the terrifying “Funny Games”. At the heart of “Luce”, former child soldier is played by New Orleans born, Kelvin Harrison. Harrison is no stranger to indie films as his last pic “Monster” won Grand Jury Prize in 2018.
On the FIS red carpet is wunderkind playwright, JC Lee. At 27, a Juilliard graduate with already a string of successful runs in equity theatres on both coasts, it’s easy to believe when he quotes Shakespeare as his muse, “He’s the ultimate bad-ass.”
San Diego’s own well respected, Old Globe, commissioned Lee’s world premiere, “What You Are” scheduled to begin on May 30, 2019. Jersey Shore-raised Lee and his Shakespearean devotion lends an exotic flavor to many meaningful subjects, which tonight will be fleshed out by an international cast and crew on the silver screen.
“Luce” is Lee’s first screenplay, which he co-wrote with Nigerian born, director, Julius Onah. Onah never saw “Luce” as a play but was encouraged to read Lee’s screenplay in 2014 by Imagine Entertainment and Brian Grazer. The rest as they say—is history. Both literally and figuratively.
Onah’s background is simpatico to Lee’s—Onah received his Bachelor’s in Theatre from Wesleyan University in Connecticut and his Masters in Fine Arts from Tisch, NYC where Onah continues to reside. Onah’s input for developing Harrison’s character was to suggest reading Frantz Fanon, a postcolonial thinker and psychiatrist. As a former high school debater, Onah put Harrison on the podium to help with Harrison’s dialect and posture. Harrison wrote the paper himself which he holds in the movie—Oscar winner, Octavia Spencer who plays his high school teacher, also read and graded it in actuality. Gives real meaning to method acting doesn’t it?
Afterward, SDIFF CEO and Executive Artistic Director, the gracious Madame Tonya Mantooth facilitated the Q&A with Lee who exuded a youthful candor about his inspiration for “Luce”.
“I relate to Luce in the sense I grew up as a mixed-race kid in New York,” Lee said. “I was in a weird gifted program and so I always felt that I was performing various roles for different people. I believe those characters knew what that pressure felt like.” In describing how his play became a film, Lee explains, “Julius harassed me for two years and basically I told him that films are never as good as the plays but in this case, I actually feel the film is better as a story.”
By the way, for those wondering: Eritrea is in North East Africa which borders Sudan, Ethiopia, The Red Sea and the tip of Djibouti. All of these areas are politically hostile climates where only a handful of brave war correspondents dare to wander. No need for spoiler alerts—make sure this film makes it on the “family movie night” watch list for a lively debate. Take note: mature high school freshman and up only.
As always, the evening ended with a lively post champagne reception, more red carpet photo opps, Cookies by Cravory, and a fond good-night to all. See you next month! www.sdfilmfest.com
Tim Roth, Kelvin Harrison Jr and Naomi Watts appear Luce by Julius Onah, an official selection of the U.S. Dramatic Competition at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. Courtesy of Sundance Institute | photo by Larkin Seiple
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Tags: arclight cinema, child soldiers, Eritrea, JC Lee, Julius Onah, LUCE, Naomi Watts, San Diego Film Festival, Sundance Institute, Tim Roth