Review: Make A Movie Like Spike *ReelWorld Screening*

by Vakeesh Velummylum

Dir: Jamil Walker Smith
United States
80 Mins

Make A Movie Like Spike, was featured at 2011 ReelWorld film festival in Toronto and my interest in watching this film was completely based on its title. Spike Lee, the infamous mascot of the New York Knickerbockers is just as equally well known for his film portrayals of the struggles of African Americans. Lee’s affluence and success has made him a role model for young aspiring filmmakers in the black community like Luis, from Los Angeles. Make A Movie Like Spike, is told through the camera of Luis who is creating a short film in the hopes of becoming like his idol.

The film takes us on a videolog of Luis and his best friend Ronald, two young African Americans during their last few days before being shipped off to Afghanistan to begin their U.S. Marine tour in the Middle East. Before they depart, they decide to take a trip to the Mayan riviera, spend time with those who mean the most to them, and have one wreckless night of partying to enjoy their freedom. Luis captures these candid moments for his short film.

The film begins very light-heartedly with the shenanigans of both Luis and Ronald, giving us a better understanding of the dynamic of their friendship and a quick understanding of who they are and what they are about. It becomes apparent that both have gone through their own struggles growing up, but being childhood friends had allowed them to cope with their environment. Both are ambitious and driven to strive beyond their block. However their recent falters in their plans have made them look for ways around these obstacles and so they decide to enlist in the Marines. The patriotism, the confidence, the honour, the sense of belonging become evident in the communication between their respective family members. Both Luis and Ronald’s new confident senses of self can be witnessed in their proclamations off the balcony of a hotel suite after a night out on the town before they head out to join their company tour. While in Afghanistan however, their outlook becomes more bleak. The new environment, being exposed to more of the world than just where they grew up and the futility of the war itself adds a heavy dose of satire to their humour. So, they begin to reevaluate life and existence. Their ambitions become submersed in pessimism, yet the camera keeps rolling, even under heavy fire.

The more you watch the film, the significance of the title becomes omnipresent. It has less to with the goal of becoming a filmmaker and more to do with the struggles of a young African American in today’s society. The options many impoverished youths of today have are slim, and the recruiting process of the Armed Forces promises the ability to go to any school they choose to go, after serving their country, which Smith appropriately points out. However, what the recruiting officer plays down is this all comes at the risk of your life or the serious trauma you will endure if you survive. The social and cultural aspects, like cook outs, basketball and even family dynamics such as Luis’ grandmother, raising him instead of his mother, kept the context of the theme as pertinent aspects of today’s African American issues.

The direction of the film was not linear and the jumping back and forth between different time spots drew a lot of emphasis and texture to the single camera narration, especially with some of the footage allegedly shot with a Super 8 camera. Make A Movie Like Spike, excelled at keeping you guessing if this film is, in fact, a mockumentary or a screenplay, to the point that it becomes distracting. With this film, Smith has displayed a proficient level of acting directing and writing that I’m sure Spike would be proud of and makes me look forward to Smith’s next projection.

72/100 - The more you watch the film, the significance of the title becomes omnipresent. It has less to with the goal of becoming a filmmaker and more to do with the struggles of a young African American in today’s society.

Vakeesh Velummylum

Films are far more than an escape for me, it is the most expressive medium of art. It contains many permutations and combination of possibilities and I like to examine it all with a fine tooth comb and see how well they bind together. So with much enthusiasm I share with you this keen interest.
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