This film was screened at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival.
In 2018, the film world was introduced to exciting new director Carlos López Estrada and his best-of-the-year movie, “Blindspotting.” Expectations for filmmakers as talented as Estrada can feel insurmountable, but “Summertime,” his sophomore feature film, is a wildly successful storytelling experiment of performance art and spoken word poetry. On the surface it sounds like an arduous undertaking, but somehow it turns out to be the epitome of indie cinema: an ego-less artistic collaboration with zero phoniness.
Over the course of a summer day in Los Angeles, the lives of 25 teenagers intersect. There isn’t much plot to speak of, as a loose narrative weaves all of the stories together. The story is told through spoken-word poetry, all written and performed by the amateur cast (including Tyris Winter, Marquesha Babers, Mila Cuda, Austin Antoine, Gordon Ip, Maia Mayor, and Walter Finnie Jr.). These aren’t actors but artists, and the film a vehicle to share their authentic voices.
The cast is appealing with big personalities and even bigger lyrical talents, and their poems are deeply rooted in place and experience. These diverse young artists are all from and live in Los Angeles, and they offer an unfiltered, unpolished, and raw perspective that comes from the soul. It’s deeply meaningful how they interconnect art with their city, and their vibrant voices are ones that the world needs to hear.
Surprisingly, the movie flows seamlessly and doesn’t feel gimmicky (despite a choppy start and a brief lag in the middle). This experiment could’ve (and likely should’ve) gone the wrong way fast, but somehow all the pieces come together and the cast and crew manages to pull it off. It’s a winning combination of a visionary director paired with young artists speaking their truth, and the film’s flaws make it all the more powerful.
The film unmasks the impassioned cries of hope and frustration from a young generation through their urban poetry, and it’s as inspiring as it is complicated. “Summertime” is what effective art is all about.