When “Restless City,” directed by Andrew Dosunmu, hits theaters on April 27, it will do so as the third feature released through AFFRM, the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement. The collective, founded by Ava DuVernay, seeks to further the cause of black independent film by securing distribution for movies that otherwise may have not had the chance to reach a wider audience.
Written by Eugene M. Gussenhoven, “Restless City” had its premiere at the 2011 edition of Sundance as an audience and critical favorite. It stars Sy Alassane as Djbirl, an African immigrant who lives on the fringes of society in New York City, clinging to his dreams of being a musician and hustling just to stay alive. When he falls in love with a beautiful prostitute named Trini (played by Nicole “Sky” Grey), who works for a local loan shark, his life begins to have some purpose, forcing him to make decisions that he never considered before.
AFFRM’s presence has grown since DuVernay’s acclaimed debut, “I Will Follow.” AFFRM’s second acquired feature, Alrick Brown’s “Kinyarwanda,” won the Audience Award in the World Cinema category at Sundance in 2011 and DuVernay won the Directing Award in the Dramatic category at Sundance this year for “Middle of Nowhere.”
Film Slate Magazine chatted with Dosunmu recently as “Restless City” gets ready for release.
Film Slate Magazine: What was the inspiration behind this film? How did you come across Eugene’s script and become attached to this project?
Andrew Dosunmu: ‘Restless City’ is a universal, timeless story; for me, the story comes from a sense of wandering, of searching, and of loss. Eugene is a writer I have known for many years, and I always wanted to combine his words with my vision. ‘Restless City’ gave us that opportunity.
FSM: What were your impressions of taking this film to Sundance? What was that experience like?
AD: I was happy to bring ‘Restless City’ to Sundance, having been involved with Sundance on other projects. Sundance is a wonderful supporter of independent film, and being there with my first feature felt safe and welcoming, in many ways.
FSM: What were some of the challenges in getting this film made?
AD: Financing a film is always a challenge. We were working on funding even while shooting the film! Fortunately, we had a dedicated, hard-working crew and talented, committed actors who pushed through the obstacles and made it happen.
FSM: How much prep time did you have before principal photography? How long was the shoot?
AD: We prepped for one week, and shot the film in 18 long days.
FSM: Is there part of the filmmaking process that you enjoy over any of the others? Or do you view it all as one long process that you immerse yourself in?
AD: There are so many high points for me in filmmaking, it’s impossible to limit to one or two … I would say the adrenaline rush when actually on set is first and foremost. When I read a moving script, or walk through a scene with my actors, and everything starts clicking… it can’t get much better than that!
FSM: What are you hoping that audiences will take away from ‘Restless City?’
AD: I hope that the ‘Restless City’ audience will see themselves in the characters, and can relate to the struggles, and triumphs of being suddenly in love, of trying to survive in a difficult environment, and the beauty of finding family far from home.
FSM: What was the most important lesson–either professional, from a filmmaking standpoint or a personal standpoint–that you learned from making this film?
AD: It was clear to me while making the film that no director ever stands alone: filmmaking requires the support and confidence of a strong team, from start to wrap.
FSM: How did the film get picked for release through AFFRM? Were you contacted by Ava, was there a submission process?
AD: I have known Ava for a while now, and her work towards ownership of our films –while being a stellar story-teller herself–was always inspiring and important to me. When ‘Restless City’ was looking for distribution, we met a lot of possible distributers. I was convinced that Ava understood the film, and the markets which would receive it best. I felt we had a connection that would work positively for both AFFRM and ‘Restless City.’
FSM: Were you aware of AFFRM before your film was set to be released through the organization?
AD: Yes… AFFRM has made such remarkable strides in the past year, with two films released to great acclaim, and Ava winning at Sundance… AFFRM truly represents our filmmaking coming into full recognition.
FSM: What are your thoughts as the film gets set for its theatrical release?
AD: I am excited to see the film hit the larger, nationwide and international audience. The response so far has been overwhelmingly positive and encouraging… I am looking forward to meeting the audiences and hearing their responses to our work.
FSM: Any final thoughts about ‘Restless City’ or AFFRM?
AD: I thank Film Slate for your support! I am very happy to be working with AFFRM, and anticipating a long relationship with Ava, and a long life for ‘Restless City.’