Filmmaker Tiffany Golden compares her forthcoming feature, Firstborn, to the 1955 drama Cat on a Hot Tin Roof in the sense that it opens with a household already mired in grief — in this case because the mother recently succumbed to cancer. But unlike the Tennessee Williams play, Firstborn doesn't dwell on dysfunctional relationships or the many webs of deception that can form when a family loses its foundation. Rather, Golden's story — which is set in present-day Oakland — offers a hopeful take on African-American father-daughter relationships, and three people's will to survive in a perilous situation. Explained the director, "I wanted to write something that didn't necessarily have a happy ending, but showed that people could heal from traumatic incidents in their families — and what that looks like."
In Firstborn, teenager Daja Wilson — a clairvoyant capable of seeing "auras" — communicates with her deceased jazz singer mother through spiritual intuition. Faced with a lot of "predatory energy" from people who think she's crazy and from an older drifter who attempts to console her, Wilson struggles to stave off the malefactors and keep her family together, even though everyone is despondent and vulnerable. Her father's grief sets a lot of the character drama in motion, since he's trying to uphold his wife's legacy while struggling to connect with his daughters. Besides providing a complex and somewhat against-the-grain domestic portrait, Firstborn is largely a film about jazz, which serves as an impetus for the storyline and a vehicle for expressing the characters' humanity. (The title derives from a fictional hit song that Wilson's parents recorded as a duo.) A rich, free-form score by Chicago percussionist Kahil El'Zabar creates a sublimated narrative for the father's interior world.
Though she describes Firstborn as both cathartic and loosely autobiographical, Golden admonishes that it's "not only a healing film." She's preoccupied with making the characters both sympathetic and believable — particularly the father, since it's rare to see the emotional lives of black men depicted onscreen. Overall, the director favors realism over melodrama, and insists that the film's social dimensions outweigh the personal. Golden will screen a scene from Firstborn this Friday, Feb. 15, at EastSide Cultural Center (2277 International Blvd., Oakland), in an effort to raise funds for the film's completion (it goes into production this summer). Hosted by KPFA and KCSM jazz DJ Greg Bridges, the event will feature a set from San Jose post-bop trumpeter (and former Sun Ra sideman) Eddie Gale, who contributed to the film's score. 6:30-8:30 p.m. Admission is free, though donations are encouraged. FirstBornFilm.net or EastSideArtsAlliance.com
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