2022 SXSW Review | Chee$e

Director: Damian Marcano
Screenwriter: Damian Marcano
Starring: Akil Gerard Williams, Lou Lyons, Ayanna Cezanne, Yidah Leonard, Binta Ford, Julio Prince, Trevison Pantin, Kevin Ash, Omar Jarra, Damian Marcano
Cinematographer: Damian Marcano

At a remote village in Trinidad and Tobago, Skimma (Akil Gerard Williams) dreams of escaping the only home he’s ever known to explore the world. But when his fling Rebecca (Yidah Leonard) informs him that she’s pregnant, Skimma becomes torn between the responsibility of fatherhood and leaving the island for good. With instability knocking on his doorstep, Skimma turns to a life of drugs. Using his skills as a local cheesemaker, he becomes the village’s weed supplier. What could possibly go wrong?

Damian Marcano’s Chee$e is a hypnotic story about dreams and responsibility. Through protagonist Skimma, viewers will get a beautiful view of life “behind God’s back” as he comes to terms with his livelihood and duties to come. What do you do when your back is against the wall? Do you crumble and shy away from adversity? Or do you pick up the pieces and make a name for yourself?

These are the questions Marcano’s captivating feature answers through Skimma. It’s not about the drugs. It’s about using drugs to make ends meet for himself and his new family when he’s out of options. That aspect of “drug dealing” is what makes Chee$e special and what other movies centered around them fail to do. There’s a convincing personal reason behind Skimma’s actions. And the corresponding fallout is much more compelling when it builds off an emotional foundation.

Courtesy of SXSW

To enhance this narrative, director-writer-DP Damian Marcano captures Black manhood and the thrill of a hustle with hypnotic visuals and enchanting coloring. With beautifully lit Black faces gracing the screen, it’s hard not to fall in love with nearly everything this feature has to offer. Another pleasing attribute to this narrative is how Marcano frames Black friendship. There’s an unspoken dependency intertwined with trust that is inherent when it comes to brotherhood. With great dialogue to accompany this storytelling approach, Chee$e is simply wonderful.

That’s the magic of this festival entry. It’s full of both narrative and technical highlights that enhance the overall watching experience. But one of the more fascinating aspects is Marcano’s use of “in-film” translations. In the funniest scene of the film, a group of church aunties sit around a table to discuss Rebecca’s pregnancy. Marcano chooses to incorporate translations for what the dialogue really means, which made it more hilarious knowing Black culture.

One thing that does hurt the feature is it tends to lose its pacing in the second act. As a result, there’s not much breathing room to flesh out the full story by the end. However, there’s just enough ambiguity to treat this film as a stand-alone or suspect a sequel, which I’d happily welcome.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

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