Crowdfunding always involves risk. When it comes to making movies, though, there’s a particular sense of danger in putting your money into a project. When established stars are involved, you know the final result will be–at the very least–mediocre. Zach Braff’s Kickstarter-funded Wish I Were Here, for instance. When the creators are inexperienced and unknown, the film is just as likely to be bad as good. However, Dayveon, which was originally titled “Loudmouth” for its Kickstarter and Indiegogo campaigns, just might be great.
Filmed in Wrightsville, Arkansas with non-actors cast from the area, the film bears out the community aspect of its financing. Though it’s largely the product of first-time director Amman Abbasi’s vision (he also wrote, edited, produced and scored the film), it also wouldn’t be the same without the community that shaped it. Long before filming began, Abbasi–who grew up in Little Rock–workshopped his script at a local boot camp for troubled kids, many of them already involved in gang life.
While that experience made the script more true to life, it also set a collaborative tone that continued into production. Before filming began, Abbasi and his cast spent four weeks rehearsing, fine-tuning the dialogue and running through the script as if it were a play. The result is a film so naturalistic that it almost feels like a documentary. Really, the only thing reminding you it isn’t is the way it’s filmed.
Abbasi’s camera is subjective and his stylistic choices often render the most pedestrian moments beautiful. Take the scene were Dayveon (Devin Blackmon) and his friend Brayden (Kordell “KD” Johnson) drive around with two older Bloods. Rather than film the scene in a conventional way, Abbasi films the car’s occupants in flashes, their faces briefly lit by the streetlights they drive past before they’re plunged into darkness again.
The effect can be disorienting and that’s the point. Dayveon and Brayden have no idea they’re about to become accessories in a convenience store hold up, but the lighting (along with the abnormal 4:3 aspect ratio) give the scene a dreamlike quality that emphasizes how Dayveon’s acceptance into the gang isn’t so much a decision as the result of a slow but unstoppable momentum.
That said, to describe Dayveon as merely the story of a young boy’s struggle to resist falling into gang life is to reduce it. Rather, it’s messaging is more circumspect, showing the way dissatisfaction, frustration and performative bravado can suddenly turn volatile and dangerous. Like the bees that swarm outside Dayveon’s home, the group of Bloods who go from harassing him to recruiting him in the film’s opening scenes represent a vague threat in his life. He watches both swarms with the same curiosity and while they’re not a threat from afar, they lash out when he gets too close.
Still, what makes Dayveon’s flirtation with the Bloods so compelling is that he should know better. His own brother died because of it and gun he left behind is a constant reminder of that danger. However, while we the see the gun early on, it’s not the figurative Chekhov’s gun that eventually goes off. Abbasi is well-aware of the narrative conventions he’s playing with, but rather than fall into them, he subverts those expectations, ultimately delivering something more meaningful and complex.
Every movie-going experience involves a little risk. Even the worst movies can look good in a trailer. The risk for a crowdfunded film is even greater. Luckily, Dayveon is worth every penny. Quiet and powerful, it’s a film that takes a familiar story and makes it feel new. So, take the risk. You won’t regret it.
Dayveon opens today at the Quad Cinema in NYC and the Laemmle Monica Film Center in Santa Monica, CA.