Jersey City native wins Breakthrough award at Montclair Film Festival
Director and writer Elegance Bratton from Jersey City was presented with the Breakthrough Award for his film The Inspection at the Montclair Film Festival.
The film is inspired by Bratton’s real-life experiences.
The Inspection tells the story of Ellis French, a young, gay, Black man who joins in the Marines in the 1990’s, post “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.
Before joining the marines, French was homeless after his mom kicked him out at 16 for being gay. In an attempt to win back his mom's love he goes off to boot camp finds unexpected strength and camaraderie.
I got the chance to talk with Elegance at the 2022 Montclair Film Festival:
You really took us over emotional journey. I found it gut wrenching and raw. So my first question for you would be, what was the most challenging part of this film on an emotional level for you creating it?
"The hardest thing for me was to kind of hold true to the mission of the film, right, which is to not be judgmental. And to really follow French as a leader, you know, I mean this is a movie about a young man who's willing to endure any tribulation, any trial to win back his mother's love. And I wanted to kind of center that, that journey, so that we can get to this moment of discovery, right?
Ultimately, he learns how to respect himself by enduring those trials, and learns that he's enough, you know, so the hardest thing was not to be judgmental to some of these characters that were doing things, but also not to make the character based off of me into some sort of saint. I wanted to make everybody three dimensionally complex and human. And I think we did okay."
I think you did a really good job with that, I wanna ask, the training instructor Laws, when he kind of is pointed out as a bully, and at the end of the movie, when you see the aggressive white male who was really homophobic, and he gets beaten up, I felt like Laws was wanting that to happen, that he had that planned out from the beginning and that he wasn't really a bully. Is that kind of true?
"I mean, I prefer to leave interpretation to the audience as much as possible. But that being said, you know, this is a movie that, first of all, there's no commentary about the war on Iraq. I mean, there's plenty of commentary about the war in Iraq, but it's not necessarily explicit and top of the line. Instead, because they're in boot camp, they're not going to Iraq, you know.
So instead, I wanted the audience to contemplate the damage that's been done, and the further damage that's going to be done, so that we can understand that laws isn't may not necessarily just be a bully. But like all the men in this in this world of this film. This is someone who's been traumatized by like the industrial process of masculinity.
And he believes that he his way of making up for what he views as his own personal failures, right, is by making invincible troops who can never make the mistakes that his generation made again. So I think that in that way, he's just kind of like a another parent. Yeah, just wanting their kids to be better than they are."
That was a beautiful answer. I think you kind of lead into my next question, too, which might be a little difficult. But if you actually had the ability to make some changes in the Marines, what would you like to see done?
"Oh, my, you know, I think it's interesting that quiet as it's kept the US military is one of the most progressive organizations in the United States, right? This is the first organization to have, you know, desegregate fully, is the first organization to allow women and men to be paid equally, right, just for holding the same title. Gays can serve, trans people can serve. So and even now, today, bootcamp is in mixed gender thing. So the military is a microcosm of the United States. All the problems that exist in the United States are like, hyper president in the military.
So I would just hope that you know, like, what I learned from this, if you see me with my Marine Corps buddies, we're from all different walks of life. We all like one of my closest friends voted for Trump, the first time, we argued, debate it passionately. And at the end of the day, we found a middle ground. And the second time he didn't vote for Trump, you know, and I learned things from him as well.
So in that regard, you know, for me, I came to this film, because when I arrived at the Marine Corps, I thought I was worthless, I thought I had no value, you know, and then my drill instructor, fortunately, let me know that my value as a human being is determined by my ability to protect the person to my left, and to my right, this film is meant to spark conversations, right? It's not meant to necessarily offer any answers.
So in regards to what the Marine Corps can do, I'm hoping that the Marine Corps can use a movie like The inspection to spark even more vibrant conversations that pushes the institution more towards the goals of the society that it's intended to protect."
That's a great answer and he had that scene in the car, when they're just talking and he says to him, you have to be willing to sacrifice everything for the man to left and right of you. That was such a powerful line and, that one stuck out to me. Is there a line in the movie that you love?
"Yeah. How do you manage that fag up something as simple as warpaint?"
I don't know if you were in the in the crowd, but everyone erupted laughing at that moment. And it was just such a powerful moment of, we can actually take a moment and laugh at this after everything we've been through on this journey the past hour.
"Well, that's the thing. It's like, you know, for me, when I was when I came to the Marine Corps, I had already been out like, this isn't a movie about a gay character who's like, Am I gay? Am I not gay? He knows who he is, Right? The question is, how can I be myself here and get to the other side?
So in that regard, you know, it's really like, you know, I found myself often very confused by the male social space, because as a gay man, you know, I totally used to be in rooms full of men, sweaty men in various stages of undress, right. So like, for instance, that uniform scene at the end when he's like getting, you know, people dressing him.
And that's, that's something like you know, that you do the physical fitness. All this is to winnow one's body down to fit that uniform according to regulation. And there's very little give, I've got big hips of a big butt.
So I spent many times in uniform, just being felt up by multiple men. And I'm like, wait, I'm not allowed to be turned on by this. But in any other context, this happens to me. This is sexual. So that's where the humor in the movie is coming from is that kind of fish out of water place of like, wait, I think we have more in common than I thought."
It's like, the bathrooms scene and he gives them a hug. And he says to French, "does this make me gay?" But honestly, it was just such a beautiful movie and told such an amazing story. And I'm 24, I've grown up in a generation with a lot of people trying to figure out who they are and their sexuality. Everyone can relate to it in some way, shape, or form.
"I appreciate that. I mean, ultimately, this is a story that's dedicated to the unbreakable bond between mothers and sons. Yeah. Everybody wants to please their parents. Yeah. Everybody wants that unconditional love. And I'm hoping this is a film that can like, you know, just to make that process more possible through conversation."
It was definitely a gut wrenching film. And I mean, the rejection, you felt that, you know, it pulled on your heartstrings really hard and I'm sure it brought you some closure, finishing it?
Yeah, I mean, this is, you know, the beauty of this film is the healing kind of journey that Jeremy, Gabby and Bokeem and the rest of the cast and I went on together.
There are many things like, you know, although the movie is 100% autobiographical, when it comes to the hopes, desires, fears, and motivations of our lead character, even when it's something that didn't happen to me explicitly. When it comes to my mom, and the conversations that happen between French and his mother, all of that is literally ripped out of my life.
I was told that I should be left somewhere, I was told that I was never going to be anything because of my sexuality. And when I last seen when she says that to him, when she tells them that I can't love what you are, you know, I remember hearing that as a teenager and thinking that all hope was lost. And then I shot it about 20 times that day. I was a mess, crying, screaming ,mad. But then I got in my car. I went back to my hotel. I ordered a great dinner. And I was fine. Yeah. So I'm hoping that people can leave some of that."
The new film The Inspection is set to release into theaters November 18th. The Inspection stars Jeremy Pope, Raúl Castillo, McCaul Lombardi, Aaron Dominguez, with Bokeem Woodbine and Gabrielle Union.
The post above reflects the thoughts and observations of New Jersey 101.5's Jordan Jansson. Any opinions expressed are her own.