Much love for “LUV”
New film from the indomitable and talented Sheldon Candis
Mayhem, miss-steps and machismo meet in LUV, a timeless classic with contemporary, masculine gloss from director Sheldon Candis starring actor/activist/rapper Common alongside Dennis Haysbert, Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton, Meagan Good and amazing young actor, Michael Rainey Jr.
An 11-year-old boy gets a crash course in what it means to be a man when he spends a day with the uncle he idolizes in LUV, a poignant and gritty coming-of-age story.
With his mother in rehab and his father out of the picture, young Woody Watson (Rainey Jr.) lives with his grandmother (Lonette McKee) in suburban Baltimore and longs for his family to be reunited. His charismatic Uncle Vincent (Common) has recently returned home after eight years in prison, determined to straighten out his life by opening a high-end crab shack that will establish him as a solid citizen with a legitimate future.
One day, instead of dropping Woody off at school, Vincent decides to give the boy a tutorial on how a man gets things done. After a trip to a tailor to get Woody a custom-fitted suit, the pair heads to the bank to sign off on the loan Vincent needs to fulfill his dreams. But when his meeting with a bank officer puts the brakes on his plans, Vincent has no one to turn to for help but his former associates, including Baltimore crime boss Mr. Fish (Haysbert) and his brother Arthur (Glover).
A day that begins with a parking- lot driving lesson and Woody’s first oyster takes a desperate turn when Fish insists Vincent run one more drug deal to demonstrate his loyalty. Soon Vincent finds himself pulled back into the violent world he is trying to escape—and Woody has to decide whether to follow his hero…or become his own man. Running time is 94 minutes.
LUV was co-written by Candis and Justin Wilson. My conversation with the filmmaker follows–
Talk2SV: I understand this movie was years in the making; what inspired you to make LUV, your first feature film?
Candis: My mother went back to school at the age of 50, and got her Master’s in theology/ divinity. Today, I find myself a 33-year-old man, appreciative of her example. In the movie’s credits is the bible verse, ‘train a child up in the way that he should go and when he is old he will not depart from it.’ Her example and that passage were very important through all of my years of struggling in Los Angeles, going after and fulfilling my journey. As you struggle with your faith, struggle with life and things that come at you, through it I’ve never forgotten the things that my mother taught me.
Talk2SV: Clearly, you also had the blessing of finding “Woody,” the amazing young protagonist in this story whose impassioned search to reunite with his mom was fueled by dogged determination. Does Woody’s relentlessness in some ways pay homage to your own passions?
Candis: Very much so. This movie is a fictional account as far as our true relationship, true emotion and the things that happened to me when I was a young boy. In actuality, what happened to me was the reverse of how it happened for Woody in the film. I was sent to North Carolina ahead of my mother. My parents were together since the age of 14 to 27, had had their first apartment when they were 16 and, my mom had me when she was 19 turning 20. My parents had separated and I was sent to North Carolina to live with my grandparents and it was a year before my mom came and joined us.
I can never forget, even to this day, just this inherent fear that I was never going to see my mom again. Woody, in the movie is 11, but basically this all happened to me when I was between 9 and 10 years old. I remember those feelings of, ‘Will I see her, is she coming, or am I just going to have to live here and be here without my mom?’ I’ll never forget being a young child on phone calls with my mother, not being able to communicate exactly what I’m communicating to you now, just being a very sad, quiet child.
I found it very interesting that through the relationship with my real life uncle– he was my hero who taught me life lessons at a young age that really shaped who I am today. This fictional story of a boy’s rite of passage, his coming of age, but then ultimately, overall arching the quest is this boy trying to find his mom and what happens in life when adults and people we look up to let you down. You love them anyway and there is something within the human spirit that pushes us all ahead. So this little boy is going to do everything possible to find his mother.
Talk2SV: What a journey; who are you today on the other side of making this film, receiving critical acclaim and now showing in theaters?
Candis: In 1999, I moved to Los Angeles to fully go after my dream of being a filmmaker, to have a voice to say something. You hear the old adage, ‘it takes 10 years to be an overnight success…’ and this and that; for me it’s been a very tough process. I was thankful to go to USC film school because I was one of those kids who couldn’t afford it. My parents took a couple of loans and I was all in on this journey and what happened is you finish film school, you graduate and there is a long, long voyage of holding on to a dream in tough, tough times. One thing that you love more than anything in the entire world– cinema, movies– the one thing you love is staring at you because you’ve watched movies, you’ve studied movies, you buy films and you watch them over and over again. Then you begin to wonder, ‘Am I going to be the guy to go and buy a movie ticket and never get the opportunity to actually make a film?’ All that happened to me and I found it very interesting.
Then, I’m back in Baltimore, the city I was raised in, not only the city but I remember we shot the movie in my old neighborhood. I’ll never forget it; I said to one of my producers, ‘this is the first time in my entire life I don’t miss Los Angeles and I have no idea why.’ He responded, “It’s because your entire existence in L.A. has been about this moment.” I thought he encapsulated that really well. In all the years you’re pursuing this dream, you stop going home for Christmas, you don’t have the money yet you have the shame because you’ve told everyone what to expect from you; those who believed in me and sacrificed with me. And the dream is not for you alone. I’m a very family oriented person and I just wanted my dream and aspirations to be shared with my family… you come through this voyage and for me this passage of success is the journey, not the destination. Once I really got that and understood it for myself all of it is very helpful now.
I feel I can bear it now because you understand that it’s really in how we all survive this journey. From day-to-day, aspiring and going after your dream, not giving up on it makes you a successful person.