‘Water in a Broken Glass’
Friday, May 11
HRC Screening Room
1640 Rhode Island Ave., N.W.)
7 and 10 p.m.
For fans of powerful LGBT cinema, writer/director Jamelle Willliams-Thomas is definitely a name to remember. Her first film, “Water in a Broken Glass,” premiered last month in Baltimore and will be screened by Reel Affirmations on May 11.
Based on the novel by Odessa Rose, “Water” is the story of Tonya Mims (Billie Krishawn), a talented but immature painter who is trying to find her artistic voice. She gets involved in a complicated bisexual love triangle between Malcolm (Wes Hall) and Satin (Toni Belafonte). Malcolm is a suave accountant who works for a high-tech start-up company; Satin is the passionate owner of a bookstore/gallery focused on African-American artists.
Williams-Thomas tells her story with a strong cinematic style. Her sense of pacing is confident and assured; she gives the complex emotions room to breathe, but never lets the action get bogged down in sentiment. Her work with the actors is assured and nuanced. She also makes the crucial decision to put Tonya’s art front and center. Several scenes are set in Tonya’s studio and Williams-Thomas shows that creation is hard work. She also shows how both of Tonya’s relate to her art and artistic process; they are both supportive but in very different ways.
The acting throughout the movie is strong. Krishawn, Hall and Belafonte are well-balanced corners of the triangle. It’s clear why Malcom and Satin are both drawn to the ardent Tonya and it’s clear why Tonya is drawn to her two very different lovers.
The supporting cast is equally strong. Pioneering African-American actress Victoria Rowell (“Eve’s Bayou,” “The Young and the Restless” and “Diagnosis Murder”) is delightful as Tonya’s powerful and vivacious Aunt Jo. Candiace Dillard’s finely honed performance as Tonya’s best friend Nikki helps keep the movie grounded. Nikki is supportive of her sometimes flighty friend, but isn’t afraid to call Tonya out when her behavior crosses the line.
Thanks to Director of Photography Kirby Griffin, the city of Baltimore has never looked better. (Lodge Street Films is a production company based in Baltimore. Most of the cast and crew are African American artists working in Baltimore.) Griffin has a keen eye for color and for capturing a variety of urban cityscapes at different times of day. He also has a strong sense of framing and composition and helps to tell the story just by the striking way he captures the actors. Griffin also showcases a lot of Baltimore street art, including the moving mural of Freddie Gray.
The shifting moods of the film are shaped and supported by the beautiful music of lead composer Christen B. The score is rich and subtle and the dynamic collaboration between director and composer successfully propels the story forward.
The movie does have some rough patches, though. Since the movie was shot on a micro-budget, there are problems with the sound.
More importantly, however, there are some problems with the script. Overall, the story arc is very strong and compelling, the characters are vibrant, and the dialogue generally sounds natural and unforced. But, the screenplay tends to veer off into melodrama and self-help aphorisms. Multiple variations of lines like, “Who are you Tonya Mims?” and “You’re still afraid of what people think of you” become repetitive and almost laughable. Lines like, “I did the unthinkable” and “You ruined my life!” break the delicate mood that the talented creative team has woven.
The excellent “Water in a Broken Glass” breaks new ground for LGBT and African-American movies. In her directorial debut, Jamelle Williams-Thomas proves herself to be a talent to be reckoned with. The movie deals with bisexuality in a mature and straightforward manner. It takes art and artists seriously and shows a deep appreciation for the rich history of African-American art and music. And with the fabulous presence of Victoria Rowell and her character Aunt Jo, the movie pays tribute to the struggles and triumphs of strong African-American women.