Jehnovah Carlisle, a Bay Area native and UC Berkeley alumni, is an up-and-coming filmmaker with honest talent and a burning passion for his work. At his July 14 showcase, Carlisle screened his three original short films — “A Call For Grace,” “Day By Day” and “The Man Who Feared” — in a presentation of his work from the past few years.
“A Jehnovah Carlisle Showcase” was a three-hour event featuring the three different films, live music and delicious food, and it was held at the E14 Gallery in Oakland. As a venue that actively preserves the culture of Oakland through art paintings, sculptures and photography, the E14 Gallery is more than an appropriate place to host this local artist’s showcase.
The showcase gave Carlisle an opportunity to introduce himself to the public on a grander scale than he’s done previously. While in the past Carlisle has been making short films and has had local screenings at festivals, this showcase allowed attendees to recognize his accomplished work in its entirety.
“I’ve been able to persist… and just making content, even if the financial support isn’t there — I’m still making films,” Carlisle said in an interview with The Daily Californian. “So to be able to see [the films] showcased in such a way, and have people interact with them, is gratifying.”
Going into UC Berkeley as an undergraduate, Carlisle was initially a sociology major before realizing his interest in film. Taking a number of film classes opened up a whole new world for exploration and self-expression — he became more eager to delve into film, create his own work and eventually attend the California College of the Arts for his master’s degree in fine arts. Drawing primarily from his personal experiences, Carlisle’s films mostly revolve around the miscommunication and misunderstandings between different groups of people.
“[Filmmaking] kind of helps me concentrate and focus my energy on creating something that’s larger than myself,” Carlisle said.
The first film shown, “A Call For Grace,” tells the narrative of a man named Victor (Jarrod Smith) who struggles to find stability both financially and personally in the relationship between him and his family. Victor is homeless, and to keep his secret, he stays at a bench so that he can use the closest payphone as his own phone. However, things go awry when a young girl running away from home, Grace (Nina Moore), uses the same payphone while Victor is gone, causing confusion.
While the film vividly depicts real-life circumstances of homelessness and familial separation, there could have been more emphasis on Victor and Grace’s relationship, as it represents a missed opportunity to better develop Victor’s complex character.
The following film, “Day By Day” explores the estranged relationship between a father and son. The father, Johnny (Carvell Wallace), lacks the ability to show his son, Mike (Ezra Wallace), true affection, and instead conveys how much he cares through strict rules and a guarded personality. According to Carlisle, “Day By Day” drew upon instances from Carlisle’s own childhood.
“[My upbringing] was challenging, living with a heavy-handed father who was very strict, and I always had to prove myself to him,” he said. “I kind of touch on some of those difficulties in my film ‘Day By Day,’ which illustrates … power dynamics between father and son.”
For Carlisle, making a good film lies in its style — that is, a use of color and steady camera work that compliments a film’s narrative. Carlisle aims to question our reality with his stories and employs a unique cinematic language to help decipher the answers to these questions.
“The Man Who Feared,” tells the story of the people who move into gentrified communities and who may not always understand the people from the communities they now live next to. Shot in San Francisco, the film does not fail to bring awareness to the reality of gentrification that is happening here in the Bay Area. Carlisle even frames shots around subtle body language that newly moved-in residents may unconsciously exhibit when they don’t feel safe.
As a filmmaker in the Bay Area, Carlisle is currently enjoying the uncertainty that comes with being a working artist in Northern California. In the Bay Area, there is a huge community of filmmakers who bring out an eclectic energy within it.
“There’s people doing all kinds of good work, and just being a part of the community, it means a lot,” Carlisle said. “It feels good to be a part of an artist community out here.”
As for his future aspirations, Carlisle’s main priority is to make filmmaking a sustainable endeavour. He’d like to continue to grow and take on bigger projects that broader audiences can relate to.
“It feels good to be able to show a body of work, and for me to know that I have been working, and I have been continuing to make and create,” Carlisle said. “Film is a collective medium, and it’s all about just working together and enjoying each other.”
Contact Maybelle Caro at [email protected].