THE LAST BLACK MAN IN SAN FRANCISCO
USA (2019) 2hrs 1min minutes.
Directors/writers: Joe Talbot
Cast: Jimmie Fails (Jimmie Fails) Jonathan Majors (Montgomery Allen) Rob Morgan (James Sr.) Tichina Arnold (Wanda Fails)
Screening 23 February 2022 at Swindon Arts Centre
Jimmie Fails IV, a black man, is a third generation San Franciscan. He grew up in a house that his paternal grandfather had built after the Second World War but which the family lost through changing fortunes. Jimmie desperately wants to regain his home but the area has been gentrified and become expensive. His economic circumstances, together with those of his family and friends, are dire so how can he realise his dream and reclaim the house?
he Last Black Man in San Francisco is about many things. Nostalgia. Love of friends and city. It’s about how gentrification in San Francisco has marginalised people of colour, creating housing inequality. Mostly, though, it’s about the bittersweet romanticising of the past with a healthy dose of reality. Perhaps Thomas Wolfe was right ["You can't go home again"], but simply because the home in question is four walls and a roof, not a panacea to Jimmie’s feelings of emotional displacement. Jimmie’s expectations linked to the idea of home, in this case his feelings of family unity, are likely never to be met. It’s melancholic and beautifully rendered in a film that feels like a tone poem of love and loss.
Richard Crouse, CTV News, ca
It’s a beautiful, frightening and tragic vignette of the urban nightmare, though The Last Black Man in San Francisco isn’t really an angry film. It’s less of a rallying cry against gentrification than a rumination on the kind of pained acceptance those who suffer its effects must face. It’s a poetic work and an impressive debut from director Joe Talbot. Jimmie, in particular, is fixated on a house in San Francisco’s Filmore District, built by his grandfather in 1946. He comes every day to tenderly repaint its window sills and plant shrubbery, despite the fact its actual owners – an older white couple – won’t accept the free labour.
The Last Black Man in San Francisco has one foot in the world of fairy tales and folklore. Adam Newport-Berra’s cinematography is rich and picturesque, treating both human faces and views across the bay with the same sense of curiosity. Emile Mosseri’s score, too, is gorgeous – both swooning and elegiac. It’s this conflicting mix of emotions that end up driving the film. What opens with a preacher declaring that “we are these homes, our sweat soaked in the wood”, ends with the revelation that our attachment to the past threatens to limit our future.
Clarisse Loughrey, Independent
- Talbot and Fails had no previous film experience and secured finance by launching a crowd-funding campaign that prompted film industry interest.
- In his teens, Talbot was introduced to the 2001 film, Ghost World about two outsider friends who wander through a city where they do not fit in. As a homage to that film, Talbot asked actress, Thora Birch, to appear in a cameo because of the similarity he saw between the character of Enid and that of Jimmy.
- The film won many diverse awards, notably Best Independent Film from the African-American Film Critics Association (AAFCA).