Cars were parked on any available patch of asphalt and late-arriving film fans were placed on a waiting list Saturday night at the Atlanta premiere of “Rivers Wash Over Me” at the Out on Film festival at Midtown Art Cinema.
The film’s Atlanta-based executive producer Dexter Davis introduced the rural Alabama set, gritty drama, telling the standing room only sold-out crowd: “Normally, I would tell you to sit back, relax and enjoy. But this is not a relaxing film. I’ll just say enjoy.”
The film co-written and directed by John G. Young, poignantly confronts homosexuality, interracial dating, life on the down low, fractured families, violence and sexual and drug abuse.
“Rivers” central character is fifteen-year-old Sequan Greene, a James Baldwin-reading out and proud Brooklyn teen who goes to live with relatives in Jefferson, Alabama following the death of his mother.
Davis spent the summer introducing the indie film to festival audiences around the country, including a signature slot in New York City’s gay and lesbian film festival New Fest in June.
Actor Derrick L. Middleton, the 22-year-old actor who portrays Sequan in the film, flew into Atlanta from his home in New York City for the premiere.
Following the film’s pulse-pounding, thought-provoking finish, the crowd burst into applause for the filmmakers.
Afterwards, Middleton, who attended elementary school in Stone Mountain, told us about how differently the film played with a Southern audience.
“You could tell that the audience here was familiar with the film’s environment,” he explained. “They got the jokes. They could understand the space of the film better.”
Davis explained that Middleton accepted a role that other actors had turned down (he also revealed that singer-songwriter Tracy Chapman declined to have one of her songs used in “a gay film.” The estate of Nina Simone, meanwhile, had no such hesitation and the late singer’s “Take Me to the Water” is used in the film’s centerpiece baptism sequence).
“Even when we were filming it, we were aware of the film’s importance,” Middleton told us. “Some of the material was physically and emotionally exhausting to do. But we all had a sense of how this would resonate. I’ve had guys come up to me after a screening and tell me, ‘I am Sequan. That was me in high school.’ We all knew this was a story that needed to be told. I’m always going to carry a piece of Sequan with me as a result.”