‘Daron, Daron Colbert’ spotlights Delray actor and his Detroit neighborhood | Movies | Detroit

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An image from “Daron, Daron Colbert”, set in southwest Detroit.

Media coverage of billowing industrial smoke transforms into images of lush, reclaimed, depopulated urban space in the opening of Kevin Steen’s new short “Daron, Daron Colbert.” Eventually, this chemical escape fades into the background, turning into a distant feature and a fact of life. The 13-minute film, set in Detroit’s southwest Delray neighborhood and screened at this year’s famed Locarno Film Festival in Switzerland, is shrouded in a kind of brutal surreality endemic to the neighborhood, a symptom of the abandonment of long standing in the region by those who have the power to help him. In light of the impending construction of the Gordie Howe Bridge and the near-forced resettlement efforts of its longtime residents (also made possible by civic neglect), the act of capturing its declining community on screen takes on meaning. separate from emergency.

For Steen, a Michigan native who has worked extensively in commercial and narrative film production, currently under RATHAUS Films, a project spotlighting fictional characters amid Delray’s rapidly changing landscape was initially the plan. But after a chance meeting with Daron Colbert, the film’s star and key structuring presence, Steen’s aspirations shifted to conveying something about the region more directly rooted in the perspective of a longtime resident. .

“Obviously environmental racism is something that people are talking about more and more,” Steen says. “Before Daron, I was writing a screenplay set in this world. How would growing up there next to industry and pollution affect you generationally? And when I met Daron, I was like, here’s a person who’s been raised in and around this world all their life, why would I write a character when one already exists, especially if it’s a budding actor?

Colbert, who turns 23 in September, describes his upbringing as largely solitary, firmly rooted in Delray’s sparse environment. The area lacked parks or much to do for most of his upbringing, and he can be seen in the film navigating largely vacant landscapes, almost always photographed alone. In a telephone interview, he described his father’s house as one of only three in the neighborhood for many years; today, however, it is the last one left.

“There weren’t many children in the neighborhood when I was young,” recalls Colbert. “We felt like we were our own environment, separate from the rest of the city.”

Growing up through his teens, Colblert often found himself hanging out at a fire station near his home, where he got to know the firefighters as well as a friend named Connie, who was close to the crew there. down. When he was 14 or 15, a director came knocking on the door for actors to star in “Wait ’til the Wolves Make Nice,” a short film by Jess Dela Merced centered on a group of bored Delray teenagers drawn to a newcomer. Colbert seized the opportunity, which led to him working on a second production, Robert Joseph Butler’s “The Girl on the Mat,” a sports drama about female wrestlers.

Through his work (“Daron, Daron Colbert” is his third film project), Colbert describes the excitement of trying something new and showing sides of himself that he can’t show in real life. life as part of what drives him to play. By the time Colbert approached Steen, as the latter photographed a stray cat in a Delray field, he had built up enough confidence in his portfolio to introduce himself to others — and especially filmmakers — as an actor.

“He just had that confidence,” Steen recalled. “He was in this short that was produced by Spike Lee and starred SXSW. So when he said he was an actor, he actually is – he’s done it before.

About a year after their initial introduction, Steen reached out to Colbert and asked him to show him around, giving him a better idea of ​​his Delray experience. At the end of their day together, Steen asked Colbert to be the subject and a key collaborator on the film.

Working together to structure their story, which mixes news footage, environmental photography and voice-over with scenes – some staged – of Colbert going about his daily domestic and professional affairs, the short’s abstract structure is anchored by his effort to provide a portrait. (Although the film was shot quickly, editing took about six months.) This becomes clearer through a series of monologues that Colbert delivers in three parts, recounting a series of names he has gone by and their origins. Conveyed with both casual confidence and a certain earnestness on camera from a dark, wood-paneled room in his late grandmother’s former home in Delray, this structuring device evokes Barry Jenkins’ feature film Moonlight in the elaboration of an identity and a very particular young male character, especially since he is visibly shaped by the strongly evoked contours of his environment.

Although Steen points to a stew of influences ranging from the Ross Brothers pseudo-documentary Bloody nose, empty pocketstrademark of Ken Loach in 1969 Kes, and an early 1995 Vin Diesel short entitled “Multi-facial” – alongside other projects he worked on himself, none of which subsumes his most recent work. Whether Colbert delivers a monologue, cuts the grass or works in a tire warehouse onscreen, there is a sense of directness and lack of compromise in his presentation that is deeply tied to the film’s intimacy with him as subject and creative collaborator.

While much of what Steen and Colbert discussed and filmed regarding his life in Delray – mysterious explosions set off by sportsmen, roads seething with mysterious spills – does not enter the film, the weight of these events remains felt throughout. With refined, understated camera work and graceful editing, Steen and his collaborators bring to light a place and a community he describes as “forgotten” while leaving room, in the manner of Colbert’s monologue, for a confrontation calm and firm. By speaking directly to their viewers, they somehow appeal to an audience for the neighborhood and its history – and in doing so, make Delray and his experiences there a little less forgotten. The result of it all, now serving as both a terrific short film and a calling card for an early-career actor, could outlast the homes of many Delray blocks.

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Robert M. Larson