Director: Cati Gonzalez
Starring: Jake Mestre, Badd Idea, Scooter LaForge
Review Author: Tony
We here at Reel Time have been blessed with the recent surge in filmmakers approaching us with the opportunity to write about their work. It appears we must be doing something right and we are more than happy to share this space with up and coming filmmakers. What makes our most recent Spotlight so special is it’s our first feature-length film called Ekaj. We’d like to give a quick shoutout to director and writer, Cati Gonzalez, who has given us the chance to have an exclusive look at her award-winning film. Cati has made quite a name for herself in the photography game with a fantastic body of work and is now applying her talents into a new medium.
Ekaj is the name of the titular character who lands in New York with little money and nothing that resembles a plan. Ekaj has fled to the city after rejection by his father for his sexuality and soon finds himself in the seedier sides of New York, quickly being taken advantage of. A chance meeting with the kind but streetwise man, Mecca, provides Ekaj with food, shelter and most importantly, a friend. Despite both genuinely caring and looking out for each other, neither has the capacity to protect themselves from the dangers they are exposed to life in the city.
For a relatively linear story, Ekaj delves into a plethora of relevant and current social issues ranging from poverty, homophobia, addiction, abusive relationships, gender identity, HIV/AIDS. Seeing these vulnerable characters subject to such awful woes makes for a hard watch but hammers home how important these topics are and realistically portrays how it happens in a so-called modern society. It’s an uncomfortable reflection of how our most vulnerable can be preyed upon.
The film has a grainy and disorienting look to it that displays time passing with little coherence which helps the audience get inside the head of Ekaj. Days are just blurring together highlighted only by traumatic events and brief moments of respite with Mecca. It’s easy to draw comparisons to films like Midnight Cowboy and Mean Streets but Ekaj shows the harsh reality that many of the issues of those generations are still problems today. I also saw a lot of similarities in Gonzalez’s style to the Safdie Brothers who are two of my favourite up and coming directors.
Another similarity to the Safdie Brothers films is the use of non-actors in the film who have shared some of the experience captured in the film. It definitely gives the film a sense of authenticity and I was blown away by Badd Idea’s performance as Mecca who comes across as a true survivor of life on the streets. While Mestre doesn’t quite have the knack for acting as his co-star, he carries the film quite well through a somewhat innocent but wary facade.
While I enjoyed the script, cinematography, and acting I did have a few minor criticisms. Mostly it relates to the editing as the ambiguity of time passing lead to a few moments of confusion where I wasn’t entirely sure of the relationships of certain side characters till later into the movie. There’s also a few jarring cuts meant to disguise acts of violence which stood out. In the grand scheme of the movie, these are minuscule flaws and take nothing away from the narrative. These are just technical elements that can be improved with experience.
At times Ekaj feels less like a movie and more like a documentary or vivid recreation of the dangers faced by rejected young people. It’s an odyssey into the downward spiral we can find ourselves in society and how innocence will be preyed upon. While it’s certainly focused on the tribulations faced by the LGBT community it’s hard not to envisage a similar dark path for any of today’s youth without the right guidance. It’s a fine piece of filmmaking which infuses that gritty New York style that I thoroughly love in cinema. I certainly can’t wait to see what future projects Cati Gonzalez will be working on.
You can follow the film’s Twitter page for updates and behind the scenes footage @ekajthemovie .