Sundance 2020 Review: Summertime
Back in 2018, Blindspotting premiered at Sundance and generated a lot of buzz during the festival. Lionsgate ended up buying the film and releasing it over the summer. Sadly, it didn’t find an audience despite its critical praise. I was one of the few critics who saw Blindspotting at its world premiere and didn’t love it. I appreciated what Rafael Casal and Daveed Diggs were trying to say with their script, and the performances, but the whole thing felt like a mess and seemed tonally all over the place. That said, the direction by Carlos López Estrada really stood out. After learning Blindspottng was his directorial debut, I remember noting he was a filmmaker to keep an eye on.
Two years later, Estrada has returned to Sundance with Summertime, an ambitious and experimental film, shot entirely in Los Angeles over the summer of 2019. While introducing the film before its world premiere, Estrada seemed nervous but incredibly happy to share Summertime with an audience for the first time. He spoke about what it was like to make the film and pointed out that he wasn’t sure how he managed to put it all together considering the film’s plot was inspired by the work of 25 spoken-word poets who all contributed their poetry in an to attempt to create something that’s never been done before.
Summertime is a film that needs to be seen to be fully appreciated. It is a work of art and one where each story is so poignant and powerful. We’ve seen a lot of films made up of a series of vignettes, but never quite like this. Each of the poems used to create the film’s narrative has something unique to say. Some of the stories are upbeat and comedic, while others are profoundly moving and emotionally powerful. I found myself so invested in everything happening on-screen and how every character felt so genuine and real.
So many stories are told in this film, yet it felt like every character had their time to shine. Some stories stood out more than others, but there wasn’t a single one that felt out of place. Summertime managed to capture the culture of Los Angeles in a way that came across naturally. This is probably one of the most diverse films I have ever had the pleasure of watching, and I loved how the topic of race was never mentioned. This film is a perfect example of how a movie can embrace and celebrate inclusion without heavy-handed messaging being shoved down audiences’ throats.
It should also be noted how the majority of the characters in Summertime are millennials and Generation Z. I thought this may bother me, given the negative mindset created by the media towards these groups, but the characters and their stories break down the negative stereotypes often associated with them. Instead, we see how so many 20 somethings are confused and struggling to find their place in the world. In one of the film’s more emotional moments, for example, a young girl stands up to a homophobic man asking an older lesbian couple not to kiss on a public bus. I found this scene to be empowering as the older couple didn’t fight back, and yet this young girl spoke her mind about who she is and why his request was not ok.
There are similar moments sprinkled throughout the film, and many of them struck a chord, allow me to see so many characters in a whole different way. I genuinely believe we, as a society, are so obsessed with labeling one another and putting people in boxes that we rarely get to know one another. We constantly judge people we don’t know, and I feel breaking down cliches, stereotypes, and quick judgments is something Summertime does incredibly well.
While combining a bunch of poems into a narrative was clearly a daunting task for Estrada, I feel he pulled it off and should be incredibly proud of what he accomplished. Estrada knows his film isn’t perfect, but you can tell it was made with passion and love. It’s an accurate representation of what it is like to live in a major city and how people should be kind to one another, let alone make an effort to talk to one another on a regular basis. Summertime promotes creativity and the freedom of using words to make a difference. It challenges the viewer to embrace who they are as individuals while also encouraging them to speak up and not be afraid of expressing how they feel.
Trying to sum up Summertime, in a nutshell, is no easy task, but the film is a love-letter to Los Angeles and all those who call the city home. It is honest, ambitious, and one of a kind. It begins and ends at Venice Beach, and as someone who has lived in Los Angeles for the past six years, it serves as the perfect setting for a film like this. Summertime truly captures the spirit of independent filmmaking as it dares to take chances and strives to stand out in a world filled with sequels and remakes. I hope this one finds an audience beyond the Sundance crowd as it is a remarkable work of art that deserves to be seen.