Slamdance 2022 Review: PARIS IS IN HARLEM, Mosaics of Life and Music

Editor, Canada; Montréal, Canada (@bonnequin)
Slamdance 2022 Review: PARIS IS IN HARLEM, Mosaics of Life and Music

While there are a lot of laws enacted (and sometimes still exist) in cities that seem very odd and specific (I read once about a law forbidding people from hiding bees under their hats), some laws that seem strange on the surface have very sinister and long-lasting devastating effects. One such law was New York's cabaret or no dancing law. Enacted during prohibition, it forbade dancing for enjoyment unless an establishment had a specific license; it's probably needless to say that the venues most impacted by this were jazz clubs and the like, often run by Black Americans, the kind where people might just decide to get up and dance to the wonderful music. As archaic as it seems, the law was only repealed a few years ago.

Director and writer Christina Kallas looks at the people who frequent one such club, and their converging stories on the eve of the law's repeal, in Paris is in Harlem. Professors, Uber drivers, musicians, a couple of angry young men, all go through a pretty rough day before heading out to the Paris Blues jazz club to let off some steam -- but gunshots might curtail their brief happiness. This ensemble piece allows us to understand the varying personalities that make up a neighbourhood, that make up an audience, the people whose lives are impacted by so many rules and regulations that do not take into account those who have to live with them.

We begin at the end: the bartender, Ike, and one of the musicians step out for a quick walk; they discuss the inevitability of fate, time, and the nature of existence, when they see a man enter the bar, and they think they hear gun shots. We then go back to the morning, reliving the day through the people who will end up in the bar later that night, possibly becoming victims. This day seems to be not so pleasant for a lot of them, asking us to question how we look at the person beside us on the bus, whom we walk past on the street; perhaps their behaviour, which might seem difficult to us, hides a deeper pain.

These multiple narratives are placed beside each other and wrap around each other. The day begins with teachers at a session on active shooters; and even delivering factual information becomes fraught with conflict. One man finds himself having to defend some questionable language in a film class; another finds herself at the heart of a sexual harrasment suit; two young men steal a knapsack that holds a gun; a band rehearsal; an overly friendly Uber driver; a brush with suicide. Each story in the proverbial naked city, each one from a person you might have sat next to on the subway or in a cafe, moments that each of us have, and wondered if anyone noticed.

Stitched together much like a jazz piece, with one instrument doing solo, then several blending together, with some duos and trios, Kallas creates this tapestry that feels eerily familiar to anyone whose has had a day where everything happens just a bit too much, and there is no cure like a drink, a conversation, and a song. We see these characters at their most vulnerable moments, without any backstory. Sometimes these stories are woven through with a saxophone wandering in and out of the scene, like the bridge of a song, weaving these connections (there are fewer degrees of separation than we think).

This connection is this bar, Paris Blues, a mainstay in Harlem and the kind of jazz bar we all wish we had in our neighbourhood: friendly, warm, a comfort and an escape. Kallas engages not only actors, but musicians such as Camille Thurman and Kojo Roney. This combination allows for the naturalistic feel, and Kallas is developing this trademark signature to create stories of life, anger, sadness, and joy. Paris in Harlem combines a cinema verité with an intimate drama that asks us to think about our own mosaic: our colleagues, friends, lovers, and our streets, our neighbourhood, our city, and the constant crisis under which we exist.

Paris is in Harlem

  • Christina Kallas
  • Christina Kallas
  • Vandit Bhatt
  • Leon Addison Brown
  • Ellie Foumbi
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Christina KallasVandit BhattLeon Addison BrownEllie FoumbiDrama

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