You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Zoned In

Everybody's defying the odds in "Zoned In," an up-from-poverty striver story whose subject, Daniel "Sukie" Nartey II, makes it from the South Bronx to the Ivy League.

With: Daniel "Sukie" Nartey II.

Everybody’s defying the odds in “Zoned In,” an up-from-poverty striver story whose subject, Daniel “Sukie” Nartey II, makes it from the South Bronx to the Ivy League, leaving an indelible imprint of personality wherever he goes. That Nartey’s p.o.v. dominates the movie so much ought to make it blinkered and boring — this much of almost anyone probably would. But the music, visual choices and editing rhythms help make “Zoned In” a human-interest story with an engine underneath it. Theatrical seems unlikely, just as TV seems inevitable.

Nartey proves you can go home again — the film opens with him teaching a class at his troubled old Bronx high school, Taft, so you know where the docu’s headed. But as with so many journeys, the motion itself is the critical element.

As helmer Daniela Zanzotto picks up what will be a nine-years-in-the-making story, Nartey’s family is moving from a life of crime in North Carolina (two older brothers are in prison) to the Bronx. There, the Narteys will spend seven months in a shelter while trying for a fresh start.

Their story could have gone in any number of tragic directions, but high schooler Sukie gets the education bug, feeling only that will allow him to break free of the Bronx. “All my life,” he says resolutely, “I’m not going to be here.”

Sukie gets to Brown U., where he finds himself a stranger in a strange land. People look at him as “ghetto,” and his rather radical political interpretation of history isn’t going to fly with the Brown faculty.

Wisely, Zanzotto lets Nartey have his say without too much questioning, or too many contrasting perspectives. The viewer gets a Sukie Nartey view of the world, and that is what’s intriguing — not whether Brown is somehow wrong, but how difficult it is for Sukie, who perceives he doesn’t belong there.

Which is not to say that Brown doesn’t somehow contribute to Nartey’s discomfort. But that’s not what the movie is about. It’s about Nartey’s view of the world — and how hard it is for even the smartest denizen of the social underclass to escape the psychological shackles that were forged generations before.

And Nartey isn’t some clueless wonder. “I won’t let myself enjoy it,” he admits, talking of the Brown experience. He doesn’t want to go home and still be at Brown in his head, he says. In addition, he doesn’t want to be part of a community where people “discover their blackness through African-American history class.”

Zanzotto doesn’t include in her film what exactly it is that Nartey objects to — we don’t get confrontations with other students or teachers, or instances of anti-Nartey-ism. She will likely be criticized for that.

But this is a psychological portrait, one far more delicate than the hip-hop beat of the soundtrack would let on. And like an Old Master portrait, the subject reveals more and more the longer we study him. Zanzotto may not challenge Nartey. But she certainly challenges the viewer.

Production values, especially the camerawork, are often top-notch.

Popular on Variety

Zoned In

Production: A Disruptive Element Films presentation. Produced, directed by Daniela Zanzotto.

Crew: Camera (color), Zanzotto; editor, Dominique Lutier; music, Joe Lopez, Alex Hernandez; sound, Sean Clauson. Reviewed on DVD, Toronto, April, 18, 2008. (In Tribeca Film Festival.) Running time: 90 MIN.

With: With: Daniel "Sukie" Nartey II.

More Film

  • Chuck Lorre, Scott Stuber to Keynote

    Chuck Lorre, Scott Stuber to Keynote Variety Innovate Summit

    “The Big Bang Theory” co-creator and TV producer Chuck Lorre and the head of Netflix Films Scott Stuber will keynote Variety’s Innovate Summit presented by PwC on Dec. 5 in Los Angeles. Lorre will share the career experiences that lead to his co-creating and executive producing “The Big Bang Theory,” “Young Sheldon” and “Mom.” Lorre’s extensive [...]

  • John Williams poses on the red

    'Star Wars' Composer John Williams Nabs 71st Grammy Nom 58 Years After His First

    Composer John Williams received two Grammy nominations, as announced yesterday, bringing his grand total to 71 nominations, with 24 wins to date. Williams was nominated in the composing and arranging field. His “Galaxy’s Edge Symphonic Suite,” written for the new “Star Wars”-themed park at Disneyland, was nominated for best instrumental composition, while his arrangement of [...]

  • Rian Johnson'Knives Out' premiere, BFI London

    Rian Johnson on 'Knives Out,' 'Star Wars' and Toxic Fandom

    Rian Johnson’s “Knives Out” is a wickedly funny, fiendishly clever, and surprisingly prescient murder mystery. It succeeds as both a brilliantly constructed puzzle-box of a whodunit, offering up a big reveal that’s extremely satisfying, and as a incisive comment on the class divisions and prejudice that are roiling America. If that sounds medicinal, fear not. [...]

  • Parasite

    Bong Joon-ho's 'Parasite' Wins Best Film at Asia Pacific Screen Awards

    Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite,” which earlier this year won the Palme d’Or at the Cannes Film Festival, on Thursday added the Asia Pacific Screen Award for best film to its burgeoning trophy cabinet. “Parasite” producer Jang Young-hwan was on hand to accept the award at the end of a ritzy ceremony in Brisbane, Australia. The APSAs, [...]

  • Game of Thrones Season 6

    British Directors Guild Issues Guidelines for Filming Nudity and Simulated Sex

    Directors UK, the professional guild for screen directors in Britain, has launched guidelines for directing nude and simulated sex scenes to prevent unprofessional conduct in film and TV. Described as the “first of their kind in the U.K.,” the new guidelines “are born of the need to set clear and shared professional expectations that apply [...]

  • People attend the opening ceremony of

    Korean Festival Selectors Resign Over Programming Independence Complaint

    Three programmers who have headed the Jeonju International Film Festival, South Korea’s second largest festival, resigned en masse on Tuesday. They say they are protesting the encroachment on their independence by the board of directors and city authorities. The three – Kim Young-jin, Lee Sang-yong and Jang Byeong-won – have led the Jeonju film festival [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content