Leon's prize-winning debut shows New York's hidden side
“People think that means ‘The Fast and the Furious,’ which I like a lot, but it doesn’t need to be a movie that costs hundreds of millions of dollars,” he says. “It’s not about the budget level; it’s about the story and the characters, and does an audience want to go on an adventure with these characters.”
“Loot,” which opens theatrically on March 22, has enticed many cinephiles to hop aboard. The pic won last year’s South by Southwest Grand Jury Prize, unspooled in Un Certain Regard at Cannes last year and earned Leon the Someone to Watch Award at the Spirits.
Set mostly in the Bronx, the film follows the exploits of two young graffiti artists as they try to obtain enough cash to pull off their greatest tag ever: the New York Mets Home Run Apple.
Working guerrilla-style with nonprofessional actors on the streets of New York, Leon wanted to make a movie that showed a side of Gotham he believes isn’t portrayed in films anymore — “one that has a lot of grit, energy and heart,” he says.
The 31-year-old filmmaker, who says he came down with the movie bug when he was 5 watching “Star Wars,” got his first big break through his stepmother, publicist Leslee Dart, who helped him get an internship with Woody Allen. Leon’s already found other high-profile supporters, including director Jonathan Demme, who has signed on to present “Gimme the Loot.”
“His exceptional touch with actors really brands him as a filmmaker with entertainment on his mind and a desire to tell stories about people that matter,” Demme says. “That his (characters) are young, original, diverse and way deeper and fresher than almost anything around makes me really excited to see what (he) pulls out of the hat next.”
Leon, himself, is not exactly sure. But he’s developing a comedy pilot for HBO, writing his own feature scripts and reading others.
Whatever come next, he admits, “Moving forward, I’d be very happy to make movies with money.”