Review: ‘August the First’

Amy Poehler

The surprise guest at a New Jersey family graduation party sparks long-buried recriminations.

The surprise guest at a New Jersey family graduation party sparks long-buried recriminations in the well-played Amerindie “August the First.” Already well-traveled and prized on the U.S. fest circuit, dramatically satisfying pic transcends ethnic pigeonholing to emerge as a fine calling card for frosh helmer Lanre Olabisi. Pic could generate tube sales and enjoy august disc life.

To celebrate the college graduation of Tunde Ibirinde (Ian Alsup), his family’s throwing a day-long party at their childhood home. Despite the occasion, brother Ade (Sean Phillips) remains constantly critical of Tunde, while sister Simisola (Kerisse Hutchinson), newly married to older Alex (Robert McKay), harbors an important secret. Their mother, Rhonda (Joy Merriweather), immediately starts in on the wine, while grandma (Gloria Sauve) takes it all in with Tunde’s g.f., Elsa (A. Toni Sterrett).

Stunned silence greets the arrival of Dipo (D. Rubin Green), Tunde’s estranged father, who has been living in Nigeria with a new family for the past decade. Initially polite and deferential, Dipo gradually reveals an ulterior motive that calls his sincerity into grave doubt. Though abrupt, climactic emotional fireworks ring true.

Olabisi exhibits a sure hand crosscutting among story threads and has a fine rapport with his ensemble cast. Standouts include newcomer Alsup as the well-meaning Tunde, Green’s two-faced Dipo and Merriweather’s volatile Rhonda.

Tech bundle is fine, though Dogma-style shakycam and jump-cut editing strategy dissipate the dramatic spell. Making a virtue of economic necessity, pic was shot entirely in and around the large, comfy house of helmer’s mother in Plainfield; she’s thanked memorably by her son in closing credits (“I love you more than boogers and snot”). Pic scooped aud award at Urbanworld and the jury award for feature at the San Francisco Black Film Fest.

August the First

Production

An L-Train production, in association with Ugly Prods. (International sales: L-Train Prods., New York.) Produced by Nicky Arezu Akmal, Shawn Alexander, Lanre Olabisi, Gabriel "Swede" Sedgwick. Executive producer, Gail Olabisi. Co-producer, A. Toni Sterrett. Directed by Lanre Olabisi. Screenplay, Shawn Alexander, Olabisi.

Crew

Camera (color, HD-to-35mm), Larry Hillier; editor, Alexander Kopit; music, various; production designer, Mary Glen Fredrickson; art director, Heather Corbett; costume designer, Fredrickson; sound, Antonio Moncada; associate producers, Myrna Alexander, Valerie Esposito; assistant director, Nicholas Langholff. Reviewed at Karlovy Vary Film Festival (Another View), July 5, 2007. (Also in Urbanworld, San Francisco Black, SXSW, Philadelphia, AFI Dallas, Atlanta, Boston film festivals.) Running time: 81 MIN.

With

Ian Alsup, D. Rubin Green, Joy Merriweather, Kerisse Hutchinson, Sean Phillips, Gloria Sauve, Monique Gramby, Robert McKay, A. Toni Sterrett, Erik Casanova, Geronimo Frias.
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