Review: Echo Park

by Lola E Peters

Monday night’s screening of Echo Park at Ark Lodge Cinema in Columbia City was groundbreaking in many ways. It was part of the film’s nationwide release, shown not at a multiplex but at a small, neighborhood theater; it is part of a new partnership between the ARRAY Release network, (formerly AFFRM), and Ark Lodge Cinema, making Ark Lodge the exclusive local partner for Array’s new releases. It was also the birth of Sankofa Film Society, a new, local organization. Sankofa’s introductory email says:

Founded by Jacqueline Moscou, former Artistic Director of Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute and founder of the Langston Hughes African American Film Festival, Sankofa Film Society continues her advocacy of independent films by people of color and women filmmakers. Sankofa Film Society drives the independent film market for people of color and women filmmakers, offering an alternative to the misaligned images of our communities and cultures in mainstream media. … Sankofa Film Society is the Seattle home for Ava DuVernay’s ARRAY distribution company. The Columbia City Ark Lodge Cinema is the home theater for ARRAY films in Seattle.

Now about Echo Park.

We see blonde hair, the back of a woman’s shoulders, above white sheets and a white duvet. It’s a bright day, sunny. A man’s voice, off camera at a distance, is talking to Sophie (Mamie Gummer) in a gentle but rushed tone. Simon (Gale Harold) reminds her to pick up a cashmere plush toy for a child’s birthday party. They parry affectionately about his request. Cut.

A man is sitting in a vintage, blue, Ford pickup truck, parked, blaring music. We see Mateo (Maurice Compte) through the windshield as he stares forward blankly. Cut.

Another man inside a house hears the music, walks out of the house, down a flight of stone steps to the street. Alex (Anthony Okungbowa) crosses the street, approaches the pickup truck, and opens its door.

This is how we’re introduced to three of the main characters in the film Echo Park. Mateo’s wife has left him and his preteen son. His friend, and neighbor, Alex has been packing to move back home to London for a new job. After comforting Mateo, Alex walks to a neighborhood coffee shop to meet a woman who wants to buy his sofa. This closes our loop. That woman is Sophie, who is furnishing an empty apartment in the neighborhood.

In this introductory sequence, first-time director Amanda Marsalis, shows us why she’s an award-winning photographer. She treats the viewer with respect, trusting that she can give us the salient points of the story and we’ll fill in the details. She also surprises and challenges us. What is our internal dialogue when a Latino man is sitting in his vintage car playing loud music? What are we thinking when the black man crosses the street and takes the truck’s door handle? Why is this affluent white woman furnishing an apartment in a community of color? Marsalis makes us think, something few mainstream filmmakers seem to want of audiences any more. Maybe we deserve that, given the current political climate, but for those whose brains still love a good workout, Marsalis has definitely accommodated us.

The relationships that develop between Alex and Sophie, Alex and Mateo, Mateo’s son Elias (Ricky Rico) and Sophie, Sophie and Simon, are nuanced and complex. They are filled with love, confusion, disdain, affection, fear, clarity, warmth, distance, and more. They are human. The conflict is our human conflict: who do we love, what do we choose, why. Unlike many movies that attempt this (e.g.: Ms. Gummer’s recent movie, Ricky and the Flash), there is no melodrama. It is the simple, relatable drama of everyday life upon which the trajectory of our existence depends.

The cinematography is, for the most part, light and airy. The film is not. The two are a good complement; think, salt on French fries. There is one scene that is cinematically delicious. Think, truffle oil on French fries. Alex and Mateo are walking in the middle of a street, down a long hill. We, the viewers, are on the opposite upgrade of the hill, seeing them from afar, overhearing their conversation. Their words are muted and we have to strain to hear some of them. Lean forward, perhaps. There is no close up. We are made clearly aware this is a private conversation and that we are watchers. Yet rather than feeling alienating, the moment feels intimate.

Whoever made the final decision on how to end the film is to be congratulated. I left wanting to know more about what happens next to each main character. No, I don’t want a sequel, or a mini-series. This film is enough. The story of this combination of characters is complete. Like the coming together of the Duwamish River and Puget Sound, there is a moment of turbulence that brings much to the surface to be dealt with. Then the water moves on. Nothing is the same as it was. That is enough.

There are movies, and there are films. The difference: Domino’s Pizza versus Tutta Bella. The former is something easy to do, a diversion or distraction, a quick fix. The latter is a delectable experience to savor. The former requires little investment; the latter requires that you expend a bit more of yourself. Echo Park is a film.

Echo Park is currently available for viewing on Netflix. Hopefully it will play again on a local big screen so viewers can take advantage of its cinematography.

The Sankofa Film Society and ARRAY will present their next offering, Ashes and Embers, to us on Friday, April 22nd, at 7:00pm at the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute. Filmmaker Haile Gerima will take the stage with Seattle’s own Gabriel Teodros for a lively, audience-driven discussion. Tickets are $5 and available at the door.

For more information about the Sankofa Film Society and to join their mailing list, email sankofafilmsociety@gmail.com

Feature image courtesy of Array Now

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