SUNDANCE Film Festival | 2019
IT'S NOT ABOUT JIMMY KEENE
January 29th 17:30 - Prospector Square Theatre Park City
The police shooting of an unarmed black teen causes friction within a mixed-race Los Angeles family. Ivan, the youngest sibling, is stalked by visions of Jimmy Keene’s floating corpse. Torn between the opposing worldviews of his two older sisters, Ivan searches for his voice while the family divisions heighten after the parents take sides. Director and star Caleb Jaffe has an original and authentic new voice that is highlighted in this premiere episode.
Hi Caleb thanks for talking to TNC, you all set for the festival?
Yes, all set! I have my jacket and boots!
With a festival like Sundance do you ever get nervous ahead of your screening?
I wouldn’t know because I haven’t had my screening yet, but I tend to get nerves whenever I show something to a large number of people.
What does it mean to be part of the Indie Episodic strand at Sundance?
It means that I have recognition and a platform to showcase my work and get attention for it. It also means getting to know other filmmakers with a variety of creative sensibilities.
As well as being World Premiere is there any additional pressure on you?
There’s definitely the pressure of my family seeing it for the first time. Even though it’s not an autobiography, I don’t want them to misconstrue fiction with reality. My family is wonderful and the family I’m portraying has serious issues.
Can you tell me a little bit about It’s Not About Jimmy Keene, how did the film come about?
Jimmy Keene is a slow burn surreal drama set in the winter of 2015 about a biracial teen coming of age during black lives matter. It follows a day with his family which happens to be the same day a black teen is murdered by 2 police officers. We see the political divides in the family unit and how the dynamics between the parents and siblings create friction and division.
What was the inspiration behind your screenplay?
There was a social media threat on Yik Yak that threatened the black student body at my former college and that was scary for me. All the black students basically mobilized to protect each other, and that was my introduction to the Black Student Union and being (somewhat) involved in on-campus politics. However, my role was more observational.
The on-campus response to the threats culminated in a massive dialogue about the protection of black people and the “pedigree of racism on college campuses.” This was all new to me so I was absorbing everything like a sponge. This was a tricky thing for me to be in the middle of because I was just beginning to identify as a person of colour and realizing the immediate dangers of that. It became very interesting as a writer taking note of all the different voices on campus that were at times polarizing, at times unifying. After my freshman year, I had a bunch of notes on my phone from my first semester of students and teachers discussing issues of race. The script birthed from that.
"I hope that it will allow people to reflect on the political dialogue we all engage in."
What was the most challenging part of making this film for you?
Everything. Collaborating, delegating, learning a lot about writing and directing, the pressure of using my college tuition savings to make the film, working with professional actors for the first time at 20 years old, the whole thing was very challenging and scary, but also exhilarating.
Have you always had a passion for filmmaking?
Always. I started making films at 7 with my friend Julian Rosenbloom (he’s still one of my best friends). We made detective films inspired by The Pink Panther around my neighbourhood and edited them with iMovie. Julian played Inspector Blue (the main character) and I played everyone else and would dress up as different suspects that Inspector Blue had to interview. Those were the days!
How important has the collaborative process in filmmaking been for you?
Incredibly important. Making a film is so demanding and requires many people dedicating many hours. Collaboration is a necessity. As a director, I learned how to communicate with my team effectively, and how not to communicate with my team. In the beginning, my approach to communication was very wordy and cerebral. By cerebral, I don’t mean smart. What I mean is that I had a lot of things I wanted to say, but not necessarily the wisdom to communicate effectively. As I grew, it evolved into emotional, story-based communication. That has been the greatest lesson of all.
What has been the most valuable lessons you’ve taken away after making It’s Not About Jimmy Keene?
I learned the importance of making sure everyone is on the same page and that the story is the common language between collaborators.
What are you currently working on?
I’ve been fleshing out the show bible at my parent’s house and working on a lookbook with my badass executive producer Diana Kunce. I am dedicated to making Jimmy Keene a series and believe it will be a groundbreaking show.
And finally, what do you hope people will take away from It’s Not About Jimmy Keene?
I hope that it will allow people to reflect on the political dialogue we all engage in. I hope that it facilitates some kind of bigger conversation about the political, personal, and the biases that come with that.