SXSW 2018: The Beautiful Creation of FAST COLOR

Julia Hart directs a superhero origin story unlike any we’ve seen before.

Barry Jenkins (MOONLIGHT) moderates a Q&A with writer/director Julia Hart, co-writer Jordan Horowitz, actresses Saniyya Sidney and Gugu Mbatha-Raw after the world premiere of FAST COLOR at SXSW. Photo credit: Sarah Kerver

The 2018 edition of the SXSW Conference and Festivals is here, and the Cinapse team is on the ground, covering all things film.

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When writer/director Julia Hart (Miss Stevens) and her co-writer/husband Jordan Horowitz first dreamed up Fast Color, they knew it would involve motherhood and a broken superhero who recovers at home. After seeing Gina Prince-Bythewood’s musical romance Beyond the Lights, they decided actress Gugu Mbatha-Raw was the first choice for their film. Her keen talent for emotional rawness is on display in her portrayal of Ruth, a woman on the run from the government, living with supernatural powers beyond her control.

Overcoming these challenges, Ruth finds her way home to mom Bo (Lorraine Touissant, Orange Is the New Black, Rosewood) and daughter Lila (Saniyya Sidney, Hidden Figures, Fences). Generations of women in her family have had the ability to transform matter, but Ruth struggles in her attempts. The impressive visual effects illustrate the disintegration and recreation of the items the women use as Bo and Lila train and encourage Ruth. A cigarette shimmers to flying colors of ash or a bowl shatters to hundreds of tiny shards in the air.

Part of the family thought is, “If something is broken, it stays broken.” Yet time with her family provides Ruth, sober for almost a year, with further strength. Hart and Horowitz show us the benefits of this matriarchal system within Bo’s family. They’ll accept outside help from quiet sheriff Ellis (David Strathairn) but prefer to be left alone on their own land… until federal authorities draw them out.

The worldbuilding is strong from the start, quickly establishing the action in an America suffering a multi-year drought. Fast Color’s setting is effective enough to make the viewer thirsty. Hart creates a tense environment — and the family’s calm haven in the midst of it — in a script infused with subtle moments of deep emotion. A synth-filled score by Rob Simonsen and the cinematography from Michael Fimognari emphasize the momentousness of Ruth’s self-discovery.

There is a certain beauty to casting women of color in these roles, adding further significance to the original concept of women with unexplainable powers being under attack. A scene where Bo faces down a threatening group of white men is even more gripping given the power dynamics on view. Mbatha-Raw, Toussaint, and even young Sidney are magical in Fast Color, a stunning and wondrous work that will undoubtedly be one of the best films I see this year.

Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Saniyya Sidney and director Julia Hart. Photo credit: Sarah Kerver

Fast Color plays again at the fest on 8pm, Mon, March 12 and 4:45pm, Thurs, March 16 (both screenings at Alamo South Lamar).

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