by: PRINDIE Senior Programmer ALEX KIM
Eli, the protagonist of A.V. Rockwell’s Feathers, is the new student at the Edward R. Mill School for Lost Boys, “a place for black boys to safely live and heal amongst themselves,” a place rendered so vividly and realistically by Rockwell that until the film included a flashback sequence I was convinced that this film might actually be a documentary. Feathers manages somehow to successfully combine the beautiful and expressionistic (much of the film is bathed in deep blue and green, as though we are moving underwater) with a realistic, almost cinéma-vérité approach. I said “somehow.” Actually it’s because Rockwell is such a keen observer of human nature and of people’s interactions with each other that the film couldn’t help but seem real.
Take for instance a scene early on in the film, in which the boys are playing soccer. Watch the details with which it develops. Not all of the boys present join the game—at least one of them sits shyly on a slide and watches. Eli (played wonderfully and realistically by Shavez Frost) doesn’t initially join either, but when he does, he moves with the ball with such a look of joy on his face that it is impossible not to feel swept up in the game ourselves. But another boy, Tiger, finds himself with the ball less and less, and as a result he also tries for the ball less and less. He demands Eli be kicked out of the game, first telling all of the boys who are playing, and, when that doesn’t work, finally pushing Eli out himself. “We’re gonna start a new game without you,” Tiger says. Kids are like this: finding themselves pushed out of the center, they need to regain their place not only by kicking someone else out but by reverting things to how they were before they ever lost their place. The game can’t simply continue without Eli, a new game must be started. Rockwell, who writes as well as directs, knows this and captures it all perfectly.
Another moment that demonstrates Rockwell’s observant eye: in a flashback, Eli’s father speaks happily to him about the basketball summer camp that Eli will go to. “You’re gonna be better than Michael Jordan,” Eli’s father declares, once excitedly, and then again, more wistful, dreaming. “Better than me!” he adds, as though this is the more impressive of the two comparisons, and it’s a moment that’s at once incredibly real and funny and touching.
Rockwell mines details like these for their reality and depth of feeling, their humor, their sadness, their joy. In a series of telephone calls made throughout the film to raise funding for the school, we hear people’s various reactions to the effort to help these boys heal, most of them incredulous. But the calls keep being made, and as long as they do—and as long as films like Feathers keep being made—we have hope.