A friend told me the other night she was going to see a new film that had been entirely shot on iPhone 5s. While that sounded cool, I couldn’t imagine a film was truly worth a $15 dollar ticket (yes, that is what it costs to see a film in Los Angeles these days) if it was shot on a bunch of phones. I’m lucky enough to sift through incredible films daily and have made plenty of my own- in no way did I think it was possible.
Curious, I Googled the trailer for Tangerine and was pleasantly surpised to see the film had swept up countless awards this year and was an official “Sundance Favorite.” The Hollywood Reporter and Variety even named it a “must watch.” After a deeper Google dig, I saw that it was written by Sean Baker and Chris Bergoch who were behind indie darlings like Starlett and Take Out- this iPhone movie had to be worth a watch.
The trailer, quite frankly, is worthy of an award. Sean Baker is not only a highly skilled director, but clearly takes his vision to the finish line by editing the entire film himself. The film was apparently named for the “orange hues” in the visuals, which is a refreshing way to name a film. But who am I kidding? Everything down to the casting of this film (which was done at the LGBT center in Los Angeles and the infamous Donut Time on Highland Street, seriously) is refreshing so it’s no wonder the title was so effortlessly chosen.
After 28 days in jail, “Sin-Dee,” a transgender prostitute finds out her boyfriend (and pimp) Chester has been cheating on her. With the help of her best friend Alexandra, Sin-Dee goes on one hell of a hilarious mission to find the girl who has been shacking up her man. It's nothing short of ridiculous magic.
Showing the grim, yet honest, streets of West Hollywood, the most captivating part about this film is that there are no excuses, no pity and no exaggeration. This is what it is like for these black transgendered women (many whom I have seen walking the streets over my last 4 years in West Hollywood) and no one is apologizing. Viewers flick between laughing out loud and cringing- and everything feels real. Running beneath the story of Sin-Dee is the story of Razmik, the gentle taxi driving “John” who is battling his Armenian mother-in-law and his own addiction to Sin-Dee. The two story lines dance together, and a part, seemlessly. Baker and Bergoch truly capture Razmik's tortured reality without interfering with Sind-Dee.
The music is incredible, toggling between classical and trap, reminding me of memorable soundtracks like Empire Records and Romeo + Juliet that broke records on their own. I can only imagine the downloads for the soundtrack will be as in-demand as the world begging for the film to be availble on Netflix soon.
The lack of interference from a traditional film crew and camera allowed for these actors, mostly all acting in their first project, to take chances and immerse themselves in the story. The voyeuristic quality of the film falls right inline with Instagram, Youtube and Vine- a place audiences clearly feel comfortable with, for the most part. Baker plays with comfort levels by both allowing his actors to “take it there” with subject and emotion and challenge the viewers with how much they want to be inserted into this foreign landscape. Shit gets real.
Tangerine doesn't only just break barriers by focusing on black transgendered prostitution in America (though, we all must take note that many women in this population are murdered, monthly, and get below the line media coverage) but by filming on iPhones, Tangerine is hope for the democratization of acceptable (and incredible) film.
You don’t need a RED camera or an SLR. You need a good story and some good lenses. So get shooting.