By A. Sayeeda Clarke
It’s another 120-degree day with five more days to Christmas and hot is the only season left in New York City. Global warming has accelerated and the sun has become a tangible threat to survival. Bato and his wife Gina are expecting a baby, but they weren’t expecting it so early. Although they planned to have the baby at home, Gina now requires the services of a clinic for the premature delivery. With no money for the clinic, Bato enters into a race against the sun, the birth, his community, and even his own identity to save his family as he is forced to sell the new currency of this world.
Time and Place: Post-September 11th Lower Manhattan, Chelsea, NY State of Being: In Mourning
Maybe it was the shock that comes when you lose someone unexpectedly, someone that is so very close to you, that sparked something in me. I found myself in front of the computer, days past a shower, in my pajamas, writing. I felt like Superman, you see. In mourning you scoff at the world. You stare at flowers for inappropriately long moments. Food smells profoundly sublime or grotesque. One's senses are alive. Or you can't get out of bed. There are those who appear not to be flustered, but I think the grief finds them one way or another.
My grief led me to Bato.
Bato enjoyed the things about "The City" (that being New York) that many had forgotten: Wearing jellies on your feet as you tumble through the sprinklers in the park; piraguas; being black and brown and proud; stoops; and arroz con gandules. Wait, one more: and neighborhoods where you could afford to pay the rent. Bato was just trying to take care of his family but in this world, in this time, if you slipped just a hair, you would be robbed of who you are.
I saw Bato biking through the stifling, oppressive sun bearing down on him and around him lots of empty space. The Sun is a main character in Bato's world. Even during Christmas/Kwanzaa/Hanukkah, the sun shines. In a world where the sun shines everyday, how does one protect oneself from it if you are not equipped genetically? Well, like oil and gas and diamonds and gold and land and so much more, there will always be a way to mine what you need for a price.
— A. Sayeeda Clarke, Writer/Director
Along with all of the normal wear-and-tear (finding a DP, production designer, costume designer, all department heads, and searching for locations) we need to find our Bato.
Did I mention the baby? Not the one in the movie, but my daughter, who is a 1 year old. A baby and a movie all at once.
The idea for White began with a loss and had its inception with a birth. A fitting beginning for the type of tale it is.
This is what I am up against, what I want to create:
• Christmas in New York City, East Village, USA. But snowless and hot, the sun lingering high, and heat rising from all surfaces.
• There are no cars in the movie.
• My character winds up selling his melanin.
The film is set in the near future in the East Village, but feels like old-school NYC from the late 1970s and early 1980s. Dog Day Afternoon meets Children of Men. White depicts a world where people are creative and resourceful with the limited resources they have.
Robert, our production designer, and I discuss Cuba and the creativity and ingenuity I saw there. It's amazing how resourceful one can be when forced to be. Bato's bike is the big undertaking that has been troubling us both, but Robert gets it right and the end result is perfect. Smriti recommended a DP, Jeff Kim. Jeff and I met, and he knew how to make this script come to life.
The search for Bato and all of the other talented actors is on. Yetta, an amazing actress who plays the Extraction Consultant in the film connects me with Maria at Orpheus Casting. Maria quickly champions the film and declares that she has the perfect actor to play Bato. Elvis Nolasco comes in to audition. It is clear from the moment he arrives and begins the audition that he is our Bato.
All of the actors know one another in "real" life, so the energy on-set was genuine and alive. My husband Michael even jumps in to play Richard. Casting is always enjoyable.
The shoot is rigorous and we pack everything into four days. The crew works above and beyond the call of duty. Post-production is overwhelmingly exhausting and also rewarding, with yet another amazing group of individuals working hard to maintain the vision and integrity of the film.
The film emerges.
— A. Sayeeda Clarke, Writer/Director
A. Sayeeda Clarke
Sayeeda is a proud native New Yorker and graduate of NYU’s Tisch MFA in Film and Television where she was a Dean’s Fellow. Her previous award-winning films include Sin Salida (aired on HBO & HBO Latino for two years, finalist at the American Black Film Festival, craft award at The First Run Film Festival) and The Grey Woman (Promotion Pictures production winner, ASC John Alonzo Heritage Award, premiered at Lincoln Center’s Walter Reade Theater, a Hallmark short film competition winner). Along with film, Sayeeda directs theater to enlighten her craft. She was an artist-in-residence with Mabou Mines and is a member of the Actors Studio Playwrights/Directors Lab. At NYU Sayeeda was Spike Lee’s assistant and worked on the Emmy award-winning documentary, When The Levees Broke. Sayeeda is currently developing the next installment of White.
Smriti Mundhra has been working in film and television for more than 10 years. She produced the award-winning feature films Waterborne and Bomb the System and associate-produced Punching at the Sun. Her short films have played and won awards at more than 50 film festivals worldwide including the Sundance Film Festival, Berlinale, the Hamptons Film Festival, and the Tribeca Film Festival. Her other production credits include Being John Malkovich; Nurse Betty; O Brother, Where Art Thou; and Wall Street 2. She is in production on her directorial debut, a feature-length documentary about Indian matchmakers entitled The Marriage Brokers.
Maya Anand’s short film Anjali, selected for Faculty Honors at the 2008 Columbia University Film Festival, screened internationally at several festivals, including the 2008 Palm Springs Shortfest and the inaugural California Next Gen Film Festival, where she was named Best Director. Anand is the recipient of the 2008 Lifetime Student Development Award for her short film, Iris, which screened at the 2009 Los Angeles Shorts Fest, the 2009 Fort Lauderdale International Film Festival, and was named a semi-finalist in the 2009 Angelus Student Awards. In 2008, Anand produced William J. Saunders’ short Dash Cunning. In 2009 she produced her first feature film, Sweet Little Lies.
Natalie Claire Holly
Natalie Claire Holly is a graduate of Wells College where she studied Sociology and Africana Studies, and earned a Master of Fine Arts in Acting from the Actors Studio Drama School She has appeared in numerous off Broadway productions including Francis Swann's Out of the Frying Pan, Lynn Nottage's Ruined, and Neil Simon's Prisoner of Second Avenue. She recently helped to launch an ongoing community development project for the children of farmers in Anse Pirogue, Haiti, and is currently writing a screenplay on the aftermath of the 2010 earthquake.
Elvis Nolasco — Bato
Elvis Nolasco began his acting career in theatre and has performed onstage all over the world. His most recent projects include Celia: The Life and Music of Celia Cruz and The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao. His film credits include Clockers, I Like It Like That, and Inconsolable Memories. He has also appeared in NYPD Blue, Law & Order, Law & Order: SVU, Third Watch, and Spike Lee’s Miracle’s Boys.
Zabryna Guevara — Gina
Zabryna Guevara has appeared in countless Off-Broadway productions, including Sonia Flew, El Paso Blue, Santa Concepción, The Cook, Tight Embrace, Now and Then, and Bulrusher. Her film and television appearances include Marley and Me, All Good Things, The Rebound, Law & Order, Law & Order: SVU, and The Sopranos.
Michael Billingsley — Richard
Michael Billingsley has performed in theatre and film. He currently serves as the head of the Movement Department at the Actors Studio MFA Program at Pace University where he has co-developed a physical training program specifically designed for method actors. Michael is a lifetime member of the Actors Studio where he has studied with distinguished actors such as Ellen Burstyn, Melissa Leo, Alec Baldwin, Lee Grant, and Estelle Parsons. Michael is currently developing a performance art piece entitled The Reparation Rickshaw to be produced in New York late 2011.
Annie Henk — Valerie
When not in a reading, rehearsal, a workshop, or on stage, Annie can be seen shooting on location throughout Brooklyn. She tackles the role of Maria Colon in East WillyB (www.EastWillyB.com), a new comedic web series that explores gentrification in Brooklyn. Her film roles include That’s What She Said, Entre Nos, Cursed Women, and Quejios.
Yetta Gottesman — Extraction Consultant
Yetta Gottesman's film and television roles include Nurse Jackie, Gossip Girl, Law & Order: Criminal Intent, Sex and the City, Rabbit Hole, 27 Dresses, and Lucky You. She has performed extensively onstage,including appearances in underneathmybed, Mariela in the Desert, Cedar City Falls, The Cook, Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner, The Last Days of Judas Iscariot, and many more.
Javier Molina — Victor
Javier Molina was born in Fajardo, Puerto Rico and raised in Passaic, New Jersey. During an adolescence that seemed to be heading towards the penitentiary, he agreed to take a part in a production of A Chorus Line in exchange for a passing grade and was forever changed. Javier has a BFA from NJCU and an MFA in directing from The Actors Studio MFA program at Pace University. In 2010 he became a lifetime member of The Actors Studio.