On Sunday, June 22, the 18th annual American Black Film Festival (ABFF) wrapped with Spike Lee’s explosively controversial “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus.” It marked my first time attending the event, as it would normally take place in the sunny beaches of Miami, Florida. Michelle Huff, Jeff Friday, and their remarkable team decided to bring the ABFF to New York City to touch all the tastemakers, influencers, and press right in their own backyard. Yours truly was a part of the mix, and I was excited to sit down with some of Hollywood’s living legends and developing talents. With more than 52 films to screen, numerous Master Classes taught by Bill Duke and Robert Townsend, and a host of conversations to sit in on, this year’s ABFF was the go-to destination for those who love film or want to make their own film. While my aspirations are to do the latter, I am immersed in the former as well, so it was important to me to attend the festival’s closing as it marked the world premiere of Spike Lee’s latest joint. “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus,” Spike’s first foray into crowdsourced filmmaking, was shrouded in secrecy. No trailer was given out to publications. Only the film’s two leading stars were announced to keep in line with 40 Acre and a Mule’s tradition of breaking new talent. Most notably, the project’s plot was simply described as “Human beings who are addicted to blood.” Adapted from the late Bill Gunn’s “Ganja & Hess,” the 1973 original film found a doctor’s assistant overwhelmed with an insatiable desire of blood after being stabbed with an ancient, germ-infested knife. With speculation about what Spike was really concocting, it’s no surprise that the School of Visual Arts theater was jammed pack in anticipation. Read what happened upon my arrival on the next page… Upon my arrival, I was blessed to be able to circumvent the red carpet hoopla and general public waiting lines. As I began to take my seat, thoughts of what I was about to witness took a backseat to the day’s earlier event —Spike Lee’s pop-up shop at his 40 Acres office in the Republic of Fort Greene, Brooklyn. I was able to get facetime with the celebrated filmmaker before the hype of ABFF would turn everything into critiques and noise, and never once did I mention that I would be seeing him and his project later that evening. If I did, I think my fiancée would have pulled me away from reacting like a chicken with its head cut off. Others began to take their seats, as I ran into friends and former colleagues alike. Miles Marshall Lewis from EBONY Magazine was excited to see what Spike Lee was about to present. Rakiya Mays from The Shadow League (and one of my favorite past publications, The Ave ) was not too far off in the distance. We were all beholden to the spirit that Lee was going to break another barrier in filmmaking, and create a clamor for more high-level creativity. After a brief and heartfelt introduction from Jeff Friday , the picture started and the roller coaster ride began. “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus” stars Stephen Tyrone Williams and Zaraah Abrahams in an atmospheric love story revolving around their addiction to blood. The picture is full of stark and beautiful imagery, as Spike Lee and his team turned Fort Greene, Brooklyn, and Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts into a jazzy and vibrant playground for his performers. While I sat there watching the film, the players all managed to keep an element of vulnerability and savagery throughout the film’s progress. Read about “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus” scintillating highlights on the next page… Without spoiling the film, I will break down the few highlights throughout “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus”: Within the first few minutes of the film, roughly 15-20 moviegoers got up out of their seats and left. This is easily Spike Lee’s bloodiest film to date and trumps his previous film, “Oldboy,” in the gore department. Stephen Tyrone Williams and Zaraah Williams are really strong actors who are able to give the audience a feeling through the most simplest means. Felicia “Snoop” Pearson makes her return to the big screen in “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus,” which made the audience chuckle during a scene that wasn’t funny. The film’s score was done by Bruce Hornsby, who worked with Spike Lee on “Clockers” and “Bamboozled.” Eight hundred songs were submitted for entry and Spike whittled the list down to 12, which all appeared in the film and soundtrack. A scene involving a prostitute, Stephen Tyrone Williams, and a baby doesn’t go as the moviegoers thought it would. The audience was heard murmuring their concerns during the scene’s most extreme moment. The African artwork and artifacts were found and accumulated by Kay Lee (“Blue Caprice”), who was the film’s production designer. When the lights were drawn up on Spike Lee’s 55th film, the reactions were mixed. Slight applause, but not overwhelmingly celebratory. There loomed a sense that the audience was a bit confused about what they just witnessed. With addiction and blood at the forefront of “Da Sweet Blood of Jesus,” the project showed Lee’s return to his hardcore independent roots; an electrically-charged performance by two newcomers; and a different take on a thriller . But will that be enough to convince a distributor to pick this film up? We shall see.
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[REVIEW] ‘Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus’ At ABFF