A Thousand and One @ SIFF

It’s brilliant 👨‍🍳 💋

📸: Courtesy SIFF | A Thousand and One

Opens Thursday, March 30th

The Sundance Film Festival this past January was chock-full of Black excellence in cinema, including A24’s poetic, Mississippi-set All Dirt Roads Taste of Salt, the vibrant South London romantic comedy Rye Lane, and the trans sex worker documentary Kokomo City. But at the top of the heap for me was U.S. Dramatic Grand Jury Prize winner A Thousand and One, written and directed by A.V. Rockwell.

Having cut her teeth on acclaimed and award-winning shorts, Rockwell took her feature debut opportunity to pen what she calls “a heartbreak letter” to her hometown of New York CityA Thousand and One tracks just over a decade in the life of a mother (actress/singer Teyana Taylor) and son (a trio of extraordinary actors). It’s the mid-1990s and hairdresser Inez is just out of prison and living in a homeless shelter. While visiting young Terry in foster care, she impulsively kidnaps him, spirits him away to Harlem, and insists that they live outside of the system, going so far as to change her son’s name. As the years pass, Terry learns what it’s like to be a young Black man in America, both socially and through his mother’s on-again-off-again romance with empathetic ex-con Lucky (William Catlett). Meanwhile, the New York around them goes through its own version of “growth,” as the likes of Giuliani and Bloomberg create policies that gentrify the city and further weaponize and embolden a racist police system.

A stunning visual and emotional experience, simultaneously hopeful and upsetting, nuanced and operaticA Thousand and One builds to a climax that shattered me into as many pieces as are indicated in the title. The first brilliant film of 2023 is here.

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Marcus Gorman

Marcus Gorman is a Seattle-based playwright and film programmer. He once raised money for a synagogue by marathoning 15 Adam Sandler movies in one weekend. You can find him on Instagram and Twitter @marcus_gorman.