The latest Spike Lee Joint is set for its Vancouver theatrical run at Vancity theatre between April 1st-7th. The film is Chi-Raq and it’s yet another bold entry into an uncompromising oeuvre from one of America’s most iconic independent filmmakers. Lee blew up in the indie film scene in 1989 when his masterpiece Do the Right Thing grabbed everyone’s attention with its incisive treatment of tense race relations in a Brooklyn neighbourhood. Since then, his career has been a series of ups and downs both in terms of commercial and critical success, with mainstream films like Inside Man, documentaries like When the Levees Broke, and thoughtful yet under-seen works like Crooklyn and Bamboozled. As the landscape of film production has dramatically changed, Lee has run into increased difficulty with securing financing for his less conventional projects, recently leading him to crowdfund his film Da Sweet Blood of Jesus through Kickstarter.
Among his most peculiar movies, Chi-Raq is inspired by Lysistrata by Aristophanes in which women withhold sex from their husbands as punishment for fighting in the Peloponnesian War. Lee transports this concept to South Side Chicago where gang violence is rampant. After the death of an innocent child accidentally caught up in a shooting, the neighbourhood’s women band together and begin a sex strike. Described as a “satirical musical drama,” the film is eccentric, funny, sad, touching, and ultimately a deathly serious look at street crime’s destructive effect on community and society.
To tell this unique story, Lee did not have to turn to Kickstarter this time around: Chi-Raq is the first film fully financed by Amazon Studios. You may not have expected such a corporatized entity to back risky artistic ventures like the work of Spike Lee, but with Ted Hope (longtime producer, San Francisco Film Society exec director, and ex-CEO of Fandor) at the helm, Amazon is looking to establish a reputation of quality by backing the work of visionary filmmakers working within a low-mid budget level. Hope even brought on Variety film critic Scott Foundas as an acquisitions and development executive. With real film experts in charge, they seem to be the real deal, and made a huge splash at the Sundance Film Festival in January where they, along with Netflix, were one of the biggest bidders on the scene, snapping up bold films like Kenneth Lonergan’s Manchester By the Sea, and leaving behind things with more mainstream potential like the award-winning The Birth of a Nation.
Amazon’s distribution model in the U.S. is to give each film a small theatrical window before releasing the films on their Amazon Prime streaming service online. Their approach to the business is part of an ever-shifting landscape, and we’ll have to see how the new studio is doing a year from now after they’ve been around the block, but for now their emphasis on art over commerce is encouraging for filmmakers and filmgoers alike. You can witness the beginning of their legacy here at Vancity Theatre in April.
Director: Spike Lee
Cast: Teyonah Parris, Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Samuel L Jackson, Angela Bassett, Jennifer Hudson, John Cusack, and Dave Chapelle.
To read more about the film and Amazon Studios, check out the following articles: