Buck (2020, 14 mins)
Written and directed by fellow NYU Tisch 2019 graduates Elegance Bratton and Jovan James, Buck, which had its world premiere at Sundance 2020 on Sunday January 26th, was partly inspired by the deaths of two African American men, Timothy Michael Dean and Gemmel Moore, found at the California home of white businessman Ed Buck. Through the central character of Lynn, a young depressed Black gay man in Baltimore (a compelling, soulful Malik Shakur), who finds himself attending a sex party on a boat, Buck impactfully explores the urgent intersection of mental health issues, drug use, sex, consent and HIV status for gay men of colour in contemporary USA.
The film boasts stunning cinematography by Zamarin Wahdat, who worked on this year’s Oscar nominated short Learning to Skateboard in a War Zone (if You’re a Girl). Making use of a striking, moody palette of reds and blues, Wahdat’s shots convey Lynn’s sense of claustrophobia, the intensity of experiencing his first sex party and the sense of isolation he feels despite being surrounded by other people. James Newberry’s emotive score drives the narrative throughout, and helps make the sex party almost as uncomfortable for the audience as it is for Lynn. Costume designer Chester Algernal Gordon (who also produces) injects the sequence with a dark comic menace in the form of various leather ensembles. There’s also some humour from a lively Bruce Jackson, who must have one of the best character names listed on IMDb: ‘Power Bottom’.
Although there’s an ambiguity to the final scene, there’s an ultimate feeling of hopefulness thanks to the kindness of a stranger, played by Biko Eisen-Martin, who brings warmth and compassion to his role. Buck is a beautiful work in its own right that left me not only wanting to see more of the central character, but also feature length work by Bratton and James.
By James Kleinmann
Final Sundance 2020 Shorts Program 4 Saturday February 1st 9pm Broadway Centre Cinema 6, Salt Lake City.