It doesn’t take more than looking at our own backyards, at our friends and family, to quickly be inspired to tell a story. And then there are times of searing serendipity when we’re reminded that what’s happening in our own backyards is a reflection of a larger reality. Inspired by the tragic death of Trayvon Martin, filmmaker Reinaldo Marcus Green was compelled to pick up his laptop and write his Sundance-selected short film Stop.
Xavier heads home after baseball practice. As he walks the darkened New York City streets, a police patrol car pulls up next to him and decides to go through his belongings. The encounter is full of tension as we wait to discover what the officers will find. In our own minds tiptoeing along the edge of judgment, aware of the latent or perhaps not-so-latent stereotypes that fester inside us about this young man who happens to be Black.
Shot mostly with available light and a handheld camera, Stop is a detailed look at the inhumanity of racial profiling. The short was filmed throughout Red Hook, Brooklyn, and in the real-life apartments of cast members who participated in the film. The treatment is simple but the effect substantial.
Reinaldo Marcus Green wrote and directed under the tutelage of such luminaries as Todd Solondz and Spike Lee via NYUs Graduate Film program. He produced the film with the help of his brother Rashaad Green, who is also an accomplished actor and filmmaker. They have thus far collaborated on several projects under the handle “The Green Brothers.” Reinaldo Marcus Green’s previous short Stone Cars, a story about a South African teenage girl taking ownership of her sexuality, was selected for Cannes’ Semaine de Critique in 2014.
Below Reinaldo Marcus Green briefly descends from an ongoing whirlwind of accolades to share how Stop came to be, and to talk about his upcoming screening at the Tribeca Film Festival.
Where did you grow up? What were you like when you were Xavier’s age?
I grew up in Staten Island, New York. Like Xavier, I was an athlete in high school and college, and played baseball and football.
Can you tell us a bit about your background, ethnic, cultural and/or otherwise?
I’m 1/2 Puerto Rican and 1/2 African American. I have an M.A. in Education and am currently pursing an M.F.A. at NYU’s Tisch Graduate Film School.
How did you become interested in film? During that budding time, what was your favorite movie?
My brother Rashaad is a filmmaker — he inspired me to follow my dreams. He’s my mentor and my best friend. I’ve always loved Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory.
“It’s definitely a conversation starter, and that’s what I wanted. I wanted to get people talking about it… for the right reasons.”
What inspired the look and feel of Stop?
We wanted to keep it very naturalistic, so we shot with only practical lights. My D.P. suggested that we use an anamorphic lens, and when he speaks, I listen.
How did you find your actors? What was your approach in directing them?
Spike Lee recommended I reach out to Keishawn’s mother who works for his advertising agency so I did. Keishawn had never acted, so I wanted to keep his innocence fresh by not giving him a script until moments before the scene. We talked a lot about things that were important to him in his personal life and what it would feel like to loose them.
While developing and directing the cop characters, their dialogue and motivations, did that create a conflict for you in terms of your own personal beliefs?
It came organically, from friends of mine who are cops; I know these guys, I grew up with them.
Your brother is also an accomplished filmmaker and you two worked on Stop together. Can you tell us about your creative relationship?
Rashaad is a super creative and very intelligent guy, with great sensibilities. He understands story and structure. We talk about our ideas; we toss out lots of them. But sometimes they stick. This one resonated with both of us, so we kept it. It really depends project to project who will talk the lead. Rashaad has his ideas that he develops and I have my own. We support each other in our individual processes in order to make the collective project stronger.
“I’ve had over thirty jobs in my life, from dancing as the rat at Chuck E Cheese, to working for an equestrian company doing traveling horse shows…”
Given the topic of the film, I imagine it must make for a pretty lively Q&A. What has the audience response been?
The responses for the most part have been positive. It’s definitely a conversation starter, and that’s what I wanted. I wanted to get people talking about it… for the right reasons. Thinking about it, for the right reasons. And doing something about it, for the right reasons.
Speaking three to ten years from now, what is your goal as a filmmaker? What are you trying to accomplish with your work?
I am telling socially conscious stories that resonate with universal audiences. Like any filmmaker, I think my hope is to keep making films. I want to stick around for a while, I feel like I have a lot to say. I’m open to TV, web, branded, commercials, docs, as well as narratives. They all interest me in varying degrees — and I, as a filmmaker, have to adapt to the way audiences are digesting content. I go where my audience demands us to go, or I create a new opportunity, a fresh perspective, in an already existing channel.
Going backwards one more time, Young Reinaldo vs. Now Reinaldo: has there been a personal obstacle that you’ve had to overcome in order to be the filmmaker you are today?
I’ve had over thirty jobs in my life, from dancing as the rat at Chuck E Cheese, to working for an equestrian company doing traveling horse shows, to becoming a director on Wall Street. I think they all tie into my personal narrative to become a filmmaker. I am a teacher, a coach, a brother, and son.
Recently, Rashaad and I lost our father — and as two sons that grew up in a single parent household with our dad, that was a big loss. But I think with that has opened up a new meaning of life for both of us, and we hope to channel the pain into something good to share with others.
“It’s wonderful to finally bring a film that was shot in New York, back to the city.”
How is screening at Tribeca different from all the festivals Stop has been thus far featured in?
Tribeca is considered to be one of the top film festivals in the world, with an incredible reputation and global reach. For 10 days or so, New York is filled with art and cinema all in one place, and it’s a very special honor to represent our city with a film.
How does it feel to screen the film on home turf? Is it a type of homecoming for you?
Screening at Tribeca is quite special on many levels. It’s wonderful to finally bring a film that was shot in New York, back to the city. It’s also a wonderful opportunity for my cast and crew who have been unable to see the film in other parts of the country, to have a screening right here for them. It’ll be quite interesting to see how a New York crowd reacts to the film; I’m looking forward to the Q&As. I’m glad that the film continues to spark interesting and engaging dialogue around issues of racial profiling here in New York, and that also continues to resonate with audiences in cities around the world.
The Tribeca Film Festival runs from April 15 – 26, 2015. We’ve partnered with Tribeca to give you a behind-the-scenes look at the Latino talent at this year’s fest. Follow our coverage on remezcla.com and tribecafilm.com.