Written Interview: Ryan Cogler (“Fruitvale”)

February 2nd, 2013 by

Entertainment Weekly features one of the breakout stories from the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, the movie Fruitvale and its 26 year-old writer-director Ryan Cogler:

Seven days ago, Coogler was a complete unknown, a former college football player turned USC film student who’d captured the attention of Forest Whitaker’s production company with a trio of short films. But when Fruitvale premiered last Saturday at the Sundance Film Festival, dramatizing the real-life tragedy of Oscar Grant, the young black man shot in the back by Oakland transportation police in the wee hours of New Year’s Day 2009, Coogler’s life changed. There was the standing ovation at the MARC Theater in Park City. There were the hugs and tears from Grant’s family members who attended the premiere. And then there was the avalanche of business cards from industry titans and wannabes who see Coogler as Sundance’s latest wunderkind, this year’s Benh Zeitlin (Beasts of the Southern Wild).

Coogler was the same age as Grant and living in the Bay Area when the 22-year-old was shot in the Fruitvale Bay Area Rapid Transit station in Oakland, and he remembers the community outrage, especially since shocked New Year’s Eve revelers recorded the shooting with their cellphones and quickly uploaded it to the Internet. When Whitaker took an interest in Coogler’s fledgling film career and asked for ideas, the young auteur quickly pitched Grant’s story. The Oscar winner signed-off on the spot, and before long, Coogler was presiding over a hometown production starring Friday Night Lights’ Michael B. Jordon as Oscar and Academy Award winner Octavia Spencer as his worried mother.

Here is an excerpt of the interview:

When the movie premiered on Saturday night, it ended up receiving a standing ovation. What do you remember?
There was a good energy in there. It felt right. That was the first time we watched it with an audience. And Oscar’s family came: his mom and his uncles and sister were there, and that was their first time seeing the film. I sat right behind them and we all went through those emotions again and I talked to them afterwards. They were a little emotionally spent, but they spoke positively about the film. That’s something I’ll carry with me forever.

The day after the screening, did it feel like your life had changed?
There was definitely a sense of a milestone being hit. I’m not sure whether I know my life has changed forever from this point on — but it seems that way. I didn’t sleep that night, which kind of helped. The energy was so crazy I couldn’t sleep. It’s overwhelming, man, to be around a film festival like this with so much talent and have people acknowledge what we did. It’s almost like — my fiancée and I haven’t gotten married yet — but it almost felt like getting married to filmmaking in a way. The day before, I was kind of a filmmaker, you know what I mean? But the next day, I was married to it. It’s official now. This is what I’m going to be doing. This is what I’m going to be seen as.

Here is the trailer to Fruitvale:

For the rest of the interview, go here.

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