Reacting to recent news events and inspired by experimental mid-century education programs, director A.V. Rockwell’s fiction short about a boy overcoming his tragic past at an isolated beachside school boldly imagines new possibilities of unity and healing. This rapturously shot and edited meditation on boyhood, police brutality and hope by the director of acclaimed 2014 shorts collection Open City Mixtape was acquired by Fox Searchlight before its 2018 Toronto International Film Festival premiere, and an official selection at Sundance and Telluride in 2019.
Although a Queens native used to working in New York City, it was key to Rockwell’s vision that she shoot Feathers in the outskirts of New Orleans, where she found a dilapidated institution with exactly the sweltering, tropical atmosphere she wanted. Similarly authentic is the cast of young first-time performers, including protagonist Eli (Shavez Frost). The classmates’ games and wanderings are captured in richly saturated color and unusual, impressionistic camera angles by Rockwell and veteran cinematographer Christopher Soos (known for his work on music videos for David Bowie, Britney Spears and The Strokes).
“We were very much ‘in the moment,’ not doing heavy planning with our shot lists. We wanted to discover as we moved along. The environment should be beautiful but at the same time overwhelming and inescapable – like racism and the things we battle as people of color. I wanted to put that antagonism onto the boys, so a lot of the conversations are [shot] tight and feel claustrophobic, even though it’s a wide open space.” A.V. ROCKWELL
After the death of Philando Castile in 2016 at the hands of a police officer, Rockwell asked herself a question at the heart of her film: in a time when black men are so often told by the police and media that their lives don’t matter, what hope remains for a youth like Eli? When she discovered the Wiltwyck School for Boys, a progressive mid-century institution that figured in many of the biographies of troubled youths she read in her research, her own vision for Feathers’ Edward R. Mill School began to take shape.
Named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s 2019 “25 New Faces of Independent Film”, Rockwell studied filmmaking at NYU Tisch School of the Arts and is an alumni of the 2019 Sundance Screenwriters and Directors Labs. Her The Gospel was the visual prelude to Alicia Keys’ album Here and premiered at the 2016 Tribeca Film Festival. For Feathers she received Tribeca Film Institute and CHANEL’s Through Her Lens production grant. Most recently, Rockwell directed an episode of Lena Waithe’s series Boomerang on BET, and she is currently developing her debut feature, A Thousand and One Nights.
- Credits for
- Shavez Frost, Kyngston Alvarez, Nicoye Banks
- written by
- A.V. Rockwell
- produced by
- Marttise Hill, A.V. Rockwell, Julius Pryor & Marvin Scott
- executive produced by
- Rhea Scott & A.V. Rockwell
- Christopher Soos
- Q DEPARTMENT
- Dražen Bošnjak
- Laura Tomaselli & Carlos Arias
- production design
- Sam Hensen
- costume design
- Derica Cole Washington