Films: The Retrieval

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The Retrieval

The Retrieval

USA, 2013, 94 Minute Running Time
Genre/Subjects: African-American, American Indie, Americana, Drama
Program: New Directors Showcase
Language: English

DIRECTOR: Chris Eska
Producer: Jacob Esquivel, Jason Wehling
Editor: Chris Eska
Screenwriter: Chris Eska
Cinematographer: Yasu Tanida
Principal Cast: Ashton Sanders, Tishuan Scott, Keston John, Bill Oberst, Jr.

In 1864, late in the Civil War, black adolescent Will (Ashton Sanders) arrives alone at a safe house under the cover of night. After being ushered into a barn where he huddles with a silent group of runaway slaves, Will secretly slips out to provide intelligence to a relentless white bounty hunter named Burrell (Bill Oberest Jr.). The latter subsequently sends Will and Marcus (Keston John) to the North to retrieve Nate (Tishuan Scott), a fugitive freeman. As they begin to make their way back under false pretenses—Will and Marcus invent a story involving Nate’s dead brother—Will is forced to decide between continuing in his own self-interest and doing the right thing.

The most recent in a dynamic new cycle treating the slave experience, a series that includes last Christmas’s Django Unchained and this fall’s 12 Years a Slave, The Retrieval stands out for its moral complexity and storytelling courage: few filmmakers would allow their black teenage protagonist to profit from the abhorrent institution, before or while courting viewer sympathy. Eska does precisely this, and for good reason: the world he is bringing to the screen is one where a man’s value is above all economic.

Written, shot, and even edited by Eska, The Retrieval is no less notable for Yasu Tanida’s tasteful cinematography and the many polished and intelligently underplayed performances that have been earning the film award after award since it premiered at South by Southwest.

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