Khalik Allah has built up a distinct style over a number of short films and now a couple of feature films — lyrical imagery of people at the bottom of the power structure, previously the down and out denizens of NYC street corners (of his early shorts and first feature), as well as the inhabitants of Jamaica in his most recent feature Black Mother and an earlier short. His filmmaking seems to have predated his photography, but having taken up the latter form, it has become integral to his vision as a filmmaker, it appears. Sound and image, in particular, are usually rendered separately in his films, often working together but sometimes juxtaposed to make points that photography itself cannot always do so successfully. His art feels particularly masculine, though even in the gritty urban portraits there’s a softness to his approach, an empathy so often lacking in such environments. He has also notably contributed to Beyoncé’s film Lemonade as a cinematographer. A number of his short films are available on YouTube, which is where I watched many of them and hence I’m fitting this post into my seen-on-YouTube themed week.
Urban Rashomon (2013) [USA, short film]
It seems to me that a lot of photographer/director Khalik Allah’s work is about the ethics of documenting poverty. In this short piece we see him capturing images of a street person called Frenchie, while the director reflects in voiceover about his borderline exploitative relationship with his subject. It’s a film of beautiful images but also is very upfront about the ways in which representation is manipulation and exploitation, which is refreshing.
Director/Cinematographer Khalik Allah; Length 21 minutes.
Seen at holiday accommodation (YouTube), Pau, Saturday 5 May 2018.
Antonyms of Beauty (2013) [USA, short film]
Here Allah again follows Frenchie, the personality who featured heavily in his Urban Rashomon. This takes the form of footage filmed by Allah while walking and talking with Frenchie, during which he breaks off to take portraits of those who interest him along the way. It’s a reflective film, one that like Allah’s other films exposes his own methodology as an artist, and which digs into the thoughts of Frenchie, a man so easily passed by and ignored by society.
Director/Cinematographer Khalik Allah; Length 27 minutes.
Seen at holiday accommodation (YouTube), Brussels, Saturday 2 June 2018.
Khamaica (2014) [Jamaica, short film]
A short film, lovely in its understated simplicity, of the filmmaker/photographer in Jamaica, returning to his grandparents’ roots. We see his photos of the people, but we also see him taking the photos, watch the people arrange themselves in the way they want to be seen, while their voices come from off screen. It’s a poetic melange that Allah would take further in his feature-length documentary the following year (see below).
Director/Cinematographer Khalik Allah; Length 15 minutes.
Seen at home (YouTube), London, Monday 30 April 2018.
Field N-gg-s (2015) [USA]
It’s a simple concept really, filming those lurking around the corner of 125th and Lexington in New York City, but it reveals so much about poverty and injustice in America. The film is experimental in form (just as it’s confrontational in title): the words of those to whom the filmmaker talks are overlaid on the images in slow motion. It’s dominated by faces — of the drunk, the homeless, those working and those passing by — and slowly we come to guess who some of the voices belong to. Yet in a sense they belong to everyone we see, maybe even — but okay, probably not ever — the cops. There’s anger, sure, but also world weariness and life playing out. It’s repetitive in its way, but in the way that life is, I suppose.
Director/Cinematographer Khalik Allah; Length 60 minutes.
Seen at ICA, London, Friday 19 January 2018.
Black Mother (2018) [USA, classification 15]
Allah has always shown a sure sense of place, and here he adds more textures in filming his familial home of Jamaica, with lush shots of the environment, sunset over a fishing boat, water cascading down stairs, intermingled with his usual close-ups of people on the street, their faces and movements disembodied from the voices on the soundtrack (who we may assume to be some of the people pictured). My initial feelings were that this disjoint between sound and visual track, a habit of Allah’s over all his films, would be difficult to put up with over the course of a feature, but it becomes something that seems almost integral to his vision by the end. His associative flow of imagery becomes a discourse not just about women (there’s a loose pregnancy/trimester-themed structure) but about Jamaica itself and its history of colonisation, and the (re)generative power of women to shape its future — though there’s a strong sense of the male gaze at times.
Director/Cinematographer Khalik Allah; Length 77 minutes.
Seen at Curzon Bloomsbury (Bertha DocHouse), London, 5 November 2018.