‘Moonlight’ filmmaker Barry Jenkins to speak at the College

"A Conversation with Barry Jenkins" will be held in Spaulding at 7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 27.

by Savannah Miller | 1/26/18 12:00am

This Saturday, the Hopkins Center for the Arts will host “An Evening with Barry Jenkins,” an event that brings the renowned filmmaker to campus for two hours of film clips and discussions. 

Jenkins is best known as the director of “Moonlight,” the cinematic underdog that went on to win the Academy Award for “Best Picture” in 2017. The movie tells the story of the character Chiron in three stages of his life: youth, adolescence and adulthood. It depicts Chiron struggling with his identity and sexuality while highlighting the abuse he endures growing up in Miami, Florida. 

“Moonlight” made history by winning the Oscar for “Best Picture,” becoming the first film to win with an all-black cast and an LGBT protagonist. 

Johanna Evans ’10, acting film manager at the Hop, said that “Moonlight” is a very true and poignant coming-of-age story.

“I feel like the film does an excellent job of capturing what it feels like to not know who you are,” Evans said.

Acting film director at the Hop Sydney Stowe echoed her sentiments.

“His story about love and acceptance is universal,” Stowe said.

Evans and Stowe first met Jenkins at Colorado’s Telluride Film Festival in 2016 after seeing “Moonlight” premiere at the festival. They met the director by chance on the shuttle bus heading from the festival to the Denver Airport.

“We were leaving the festival in this shuttle bus, and we were listening to this guy in front of us talking,” Evans said. “[Stowe] and I just looked at each other and realized that it was [Jenkins].”

The pair spent the next few hours talking to Jenkins about “Moonlight.” They also discussed the possibility of the director coming to Dartmouth to speak with students.

“We convinced him that the students and faculty at Dartmouth were just as much fun as we are,” Evans said. “This was his first opportunity that he was able to come.”

“Moonlight” was Jenkins’ second feature film. His first film, “Medicine for Melancholy,” explores similar, socially-relevant topics while telling the story of two individuals navigating the morning after a one-night stand, getting to know each other and debating the issues affecting their community as young black people.

“A lot of the conversation they have during the day is about the gentrification of San Francisco,” Evans said.

Jenkins is currently working on several new projects, including an adaptation of Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad” and James Baldwin’s “If Beale Street Could Talk.” Stowe thinks this makes it even more impressive that Jenkins is willing to come speak at Dartmouth.

“He’s coming here in the middle of these two huge projects because he said he would,” Stowe said. 

“An Evening with Barry Jenkins” will show clips from “Moonlight” and “Medicine for Melancholy” as well as videos from Jenkins’ personal Vimeo channel. Jenkins will introduce some of the work himself and talk about his projects. Stowe is excited for the audience to be able to hear the director speak and interact with his films.

“He’s super accessible and lovely,” she said. “He’s not polarizing. He’s just a movie lover.”

Both Evans and Stowe cited Jenkins’ take on love as one of the main draws to hearing him speak live and watching his films.

“He’s deeply interested in this intersection between race and cultural divides but also just love stories,” Evans said. “All of his works explore this subtle melancholy kind of attitude toward romantic love.”

Jenkins focuses on more than just romantic love in his movies — he also explores the love between family members and childhood mentors.

“He really wants to talk about love and what it looks like in all its forms,” Stowe said.

During Saturday night’s talk, Jenkins is also expected to talk about the obstacles he overcame to become successful in the movie business.

“One of the things I’m sure he’s going to talk about is what it’s like to be a young, black man in Hollywood,” Evans said.

Jenkins, who was born and raised in Miami as the youngest of four, has frequently spoken about growing up in the housing projects, which he credits as helping him to create “Moonlight.” Stowe thinks his difficult background adds even more wonder to the stories he tells on screen and his story of success.

“It never even occurred to him to be in the movie business,” Stowe said. “It seemed like living on Mars. He lets anyone say that there is a career in the arts.”                                

According to Stowe, part of what makes Jenkins’ story so incredible is that he did not try and make the typical, mainstream Hollywood movies, instead opting to tell different kinds of stories.

“It’s hard when you’re making movies to take risks when you’re starting off,” Stowe said. “In his second feature, he made the movie he wanted to make.”

Evans and Stowe want all people with an interest in films, art or overcoming obstacles to attend “An Evening with Barry Jenkins” — Stowe does not think seeing “Moonlight” previously is necessarily a prerequisite to attending the event.

“The scenes we are showing [in the event] are so universal that it doesn’t matter who you are or when you’re watching it,” she said. “They will have seen enough of that work to understand.”

Aside from the predetermined film clips, much of “An Evening with Barry Jenkins” will be up to the director on the spot. He is leading the discussion. Evans and Stowe are excited to learn about whatever he decides to highlight.

“[Jenkins] is such a lively, wonderful presence,” Evans said. “We’re excited to see where this is going to go.”

Jenkins will be speaking on Saturday at 7 p.m. in Spaulding Auditorium.