AFF Review: Summer of Violence

Poetry as redemption in this historically based tale

Summer of Violence gets its title from actual events that took place in Denver 30 years ago. With over 70 homicides committed during those months, this episode rocked the Mile High City to its core. Into this turbulent time, director Nicki Micheaux drops Naomi (Kasey Inez) a recent college graduate struggling with what's next.

We meet Naomi on diploma day, and her parents can't stop gushing about how well their daughter has followed "the plan." With law school on the horizon and a prestigious internship set to kick off, things appear to be in order, but there are signs of trouble from the get-go. Her boyfriend Richie (Pedro Correa) not only misses the ceremony but keeps himself busy dealing drugs. Worst of all to Noami's father Thomas (Damon Gupton), Richie is white, a boundary this Black man will not allow to be crossed.

Then there's the poetry. Naomi has become consumed with this oldest of art forms and even with a legal career on the horizon thinks that maybe her next best step is dropping everything to pursue the life of a poet full time. Definitely not part of Dad's plan.

In short order she's cut off, emotionally and financially, from her family, moves from Boulder to Denver with her best friend, Pam (Madhulika Krishnan), and sets off to do the damn thing. As she gets introduced to the death and despair plaguing her new neighborhood, Naomi has a brilliant idea: She'll solve the crisis with a poetry reading!

At this point, the audience might think Summer of Violence is the story of a naive young women who doesn't understand the way the world works. At some level this is true, but events start picking up speed in what turns out to be a life spiraling very much out of control. While Naomi finds a Richie replacement in Frank (Jahking Guillory), a local painter and auto mechanic, she's soon at odds with Pam.

This romance lets Micheaux capture something beautiful that rarely makes it onto film. The couple couples, expressing tenderness and intimacy that is hardly ever the province of lovers who are both young and of color. It's a piece of representation that sets Summer of Violence apart from its peers.

When violence visits Naomi close to home, she falls apart. Her sadness turns to threats which turns to trauma, and before we know it, she has hit rock bottom, even if the film offers some familial reconciliation to round things out.

In the end, the poetry is still there. Micheaux wrote all of it herself, some from old journals and some for the film. While we can still see Naomi as a little naive in pursuit of her dream, she has pulled back from the self destruction that almost ruined everything. Maybe that's enough.

Summer of Violence

Texas Premiere
Tue., Oct. 31, 4:30pm, Galaxy Theatre

Austin Film Festival runs Oct. 26-Nov. 3. Badges available now at austinfilmfestival.com.
Find more news, reviews, and interviews at Austinchronicle.com/AFF.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Austin Film Festival, AFF 2023, Austin Film Festival 2023, AFF, Summer of Violence, Nikki Micheaux, Kasey Inez, Pedro Correa, Damon Gupton, Madhulika Krishnan, Jahking Guillory

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