by Lamzy 

I’ve never met anybody quite like Elijah. The 21-year old filmmaker is wildy ambitious, starkly opinionated and has the most infectious energy. Inspired by selected works of Chris Marker, Spike Lee, Elen Kilmov and Edward Yang, he has been making films since he was fifteen years old and has been writing for as long as he can remember. He currently has a short film out called Yesterday, it rained”, one of the most potent and poetic things I’ve seen this year. While preparing to release his next film, debut feature “Absence of Color.”. I met up with Elijah on the phone to discuss age, Tarkovsky, heartbreak, the French language, black bodies in film & gamer tags.

LAMZY:  This film was released on your birthday, It’s the first film you’ve released in a year. How has the reception been treating you so far?

ELIJAH:   It was on my birthday and I believe its been more than a year since I released my last film. “And So, It Goes“  was released on May or early June of 2021? So yeah, it was a real minute man. Regarding the reception, It’s definitely my most “popular” film so far. It’s also my most well received film thus far.  The only thing I wanted,  you can ask everybody around me, all I wanted for my birthday was an average rating on Letterboxd [laughs]. That’s all I wanted. We cracked that and ended up getting like a 3.8 on release, then it went up to like a 4.0 and now its just at a 4.0. It’s crazy because that’s like, one of my goals as a filmmaker, you know, just cuz I love Letterboxd so much and that’s like one of the biggest things I wanted other than getting a film on the Criterion Channel or something like that. I hate to feed into my own ego, which I do from time to time but it was crazy because it seemed as if people were waiting, for me to release.  I know some people probably were waiting for me to release. It makes you feel like you’re doing something correct when you have, I guess, a fanbase, whether it be a cult or something bigger. I know, at least I would hope , that I’m good at what I do. The reception is a bit of a confirmation because a lot of these people I don’t know. A lot of these people I never met a day in my life. Writing can be very tough, filmmaking can take a lot on your confidence, your esteem and your value to yourself.  It makes you remember that you are worth something as an artist, that you hold something of value, to somebody. It was nice to see people around the world fucking with the film.

LAMZY: Anybody who’s as interested in film as  much as you and I are, we read a lot of interviews and we want to hear about our favorite filmmakers’ process and so on. They often talk about reception being revealing, often making them aware of a component they were not cognizant of during production. Was there any review of Yesterday, It Rained that surprised you as the filmmaker?

ELIJAH: Yoooo, I got like two of ‘em!  Maybe even three. The first one was when I did the interview with KEP Limited. He compared one of the sections in the film to [Andrei] Tarkovsky’s Mirror. That was insane! You never imagine yourself getting that type of nod, ‘cuz Tarkovksy’s one of the greatest, there’s no IFs, ANDs or  BUTs, just one of the greatest. Getting that comparison was crazy. I was super geeked when he said that in the interview I just didn’t show it that much.  Secondly, my homegirl, Kesensa. She’s a beautiful writer by the way. She broke down the film too. The craziest thing is when you make something that people have questions for, that means whatever you made, they are taking very seriously. They are at least thinking about it, you know.? They aren’t just disregarding it saying “Yo, that was tight!” and like, never talking about it again. They want to learn more about your insight into things, as a filmmaker.  The third one was a Letterboxd review I came across. I forgot who it was so my apologies if that person ever fucks with this interview. No disrespect bro. They said “Director Elijah Winfield, has conveyed a feeling, most directors twice his age can’t do or whatever”. Sometimes I forget that we are very young,  me and you. We think the world’s coming down if we don’t get a project done or if we didn’t progress a crazy amount in the span of a couple of months, we’ll fail forever. Like I just turned 21, I’m pretty sure you’re around 20,  21, that age?

LAMZY: I just turned 19 bro

ELIJAH: You see, you just turned 19 bro! We have a lot of time, we’re so--- I’m getting off track now a little bit.

LAMZY: Nah, this what it’s supposed to be. It’s a conversation.  A conversation about you. Talk as much about you as you want to.

ELIJAH : ‘Preciate it, ‘preciate it. It’s just like...we the absolute future! We’re the future, we’re the near future too! It’s not gonna be like 6-7 years, It’s gonna be in like a year or 2, maybe 3. Think about how brilliant we are, think about what we’re able to create, think about how young we are and think about how much time we have! All we have is time to get better and we’re great right now.

LAMZY: I embarassingly watched the film later than everybody else, I was in a period where I wasn’t watching a lot of films in general and I needed to take things in when I felt ready.  My viewing of the film, was coincidentally timed with a period of a special person’s absence. This led to the film resonating in a way that I could have never anticipated. What did you go through that made you feel like this was the story you had to tell right now?

ELIJAH: Ummmm, I mean, I’m always going through shit [laughs]. It just so happened that one night, around December. I was thinking about a past relationship I had with a specific young woman. I was thinking about the things I wanted to tell her, reminscing on the time that we did have and I just...I couldn’t tell her because we were in completely different spaces. I just started typing a letter that I wrote out. The time period too. I love the winter, but around the winter I do get a bit down. Especially like, the last winter.  I was broke as fuck just trying to figure out how to make money. I had not filmed anything recently because we had just filmed AoC. that summer. I was just trying to figure out what I was going to do when it came to filming & writing. I was isolated, with time to think, so I just came across my memories of me and her in my mind and then I decided  to write about it. I wanted to write about like she was right in front of me but I didn’t know she was there. That’s how I felt when I was writing it bro, she was there but I just couldn’t see it.  Also, like I didn’t even know it was gonna be a film until two weeks after I wrote it, it’s simply easier to do that when you’re making an experimental or avant garde piece because it fits the essence. That’s why the audio is the way it is. The vintage radio effect that sounds like its coming from an old TV. I wanted it to sound like someone left a tape in front of your doorstep and you just played it.

LAMZY: I really do think it’s a mood piece, It moves like a tone poem. A lot of movies flow like poetry but not a lot go the full way when incorporating into dialogue and character communication. The first thing that comes to my head when comparing Y,ir to anything is Wings of Desire by [Wim] Wenders. The whole film is its characters speaking in poem. There’s a lot of bold stylistic choices in Y,ir that defy convention. I have to address the elephant in the room though, which is the fact that the poem in this film is told entirely in the French language despite you being an American filmmaker, what led to that?

ELIJAH: I might disappoint you a bit here and imma keep it real with you cuz you my mans’. So it’s like, I happened to watch a Chris Marker film and another French film after that. I just decided like “fuck it”, we’re gonna do it because it sounds beautiful, and just because I could. It’s a huge ego answer but deadass just because could. I knew I had Saïd [Difallah]  (the narrator of the film). I talked to him all the way back in October or November. I asked him, I was like “Bro, If I did a short film and wanted in French, would you be here for it?”, He was like “Hell yeah”. I didn’t even know it would be for Y,ir yet.  I had forgotten about the French thing before I wrote the letter but by the time this film came into play, being such an intimate piece, I thought the French language would go with it beautifully. I was like why not? If I can do it then why not? It adds to the film I’d say, It  creates a symbol for a global message, anybody could be sending or receiving that message, it could be sent by a woman to a man, or a man to a woman, or somebody else to somebody else, a different group of people to a different group of people, who knows? I think the French helps with saying that this isn’t just something that Elijah in Charleston, South Carolina feels. This is something that Lamzy in Dublin can feel as well, that’s like the whole point to it.

LAMZY: It provides an interesting facet to the film, in that often time the black body isn’t rendered as universal. Our anatomical presence is often bound by demographic-based specificity. Having a protagonist who is young and black, having that be the person we follow throughout most of the film. The way we’ve been conditioned and trained to watch films our first instinct whe seeing this film would be to link the French voice message directly to who we are seeing on screen. There’s so much to that. With every single film, how much you know and don’t know prior is going to affect how you take it in. I believe the best way to enter a film is to be blind to it but the way the world works now? That’s almost impossible. Because I know you, know where you’re from and know how you talk, I see the scenery and I’m like “Oh clearly, that’s the United States!”. Accompanied with this protagonist who we link the French language to. It adds to the feeling of isolation, disconnect, homesickness, the feeling of exploring somewhere new, observing things about it that people who lived there from birth might never be able to see. With all that said, how location is portrayed in this film feels very universal, like I said prior I’m aware of where you’re located, so I’ll have a satellite map in my head of where a scene could have been shot and filmed but with how the spaces are portrayed, they make way to be very familiar to a wide group of people because they know what it’s like to walk on that empty street. To walk on it in the morning, in the night, when it’s empty, when it’s full. They know what it’s like to stare into the plants and the open deep end. There’s so much in this film, there’s still, moving, black, white and color photography. How long did this take to shoot? and was there anything that you had from [pre] pre production such as images, that found a place in the film?

ELIJAH: That was beautiful, I like the way you prefaced that question. The film was shot over two separate days and two nights. In terms of having photography from beforehand, yes absolutely! I had photography that I had shot from before and I have photography that my other homie Elijah Martinez shot. Two of the biggest projects that I’ve done are impossible without him. Whenever I need specific photos that I can’t get myself, I always reach out to him, he’s always able to provide and for that I thank him so dearly. This film would have not been this film without him, he’s such a pivotal process to this and I want to thank him for that. So yeah, two days, two nights, we were just in the city. By city I mean Downtown Orlando, Downtown Winter Park, We were right outside of Daytona Beach at like 5 or 6AM and the wind was blowing insane. It was raining, stormy. It was cold as hell, you just had to be there. We got the last shot there I believe. Whenever you make a film guerrilla style, it makes you feel like a kid again, you’ll love the craft again. For  my next feature, I’m trying to do pre-production. I’m trying to have like ten bands for the budget. I’m trying to have like all these steps before hand. That’s gonna be my second feature and I guarantee you it’s gonna be one of the best films of the 2020s. I get why people want to do pre-pro[duction]. Filmmaking can be fucking rough bro. Screenwriting can be rough and it can be so detrimental your physical and mental health but when you’re out there just shooting bro, It can be such a beautiful feeling.

LAMZY: It can be arduous but completely honest. At the end of the day its a bunch of people in a room trying to make something they can be proud of and can help them get better. How did this film make you a better filmmaker? What did it teach you?

ELIJAH: I’m hard-headed and I have an ego. I’ve never been a “It’s my way or the highway” person but I’ll put it like this, I’m not crazy far-off. I don’t conform to anything, that’s why I see myself being an underground filmmaker forever. You’re probably never gonna see me direct some shit for Marvel or nothing like that because that requires a lot of conforming and giving up on your creative freedom. That’s not what I am. It’s not just that I love it, this is what I am, this is who I am, this is apart of me, this is me.  It doesn’t have to make sense to anyone if it makes sense to me. Bro? when has art ever been making sense? when has shit ever been about being technically correct? We’re artists bro, we’re not making math equations or nothing like that, we’re making films bro. Back to the question though, anytime you really shoot something, it teaches you. Because you’re working off limited resources, limited time and lack of preparation, so, it’s gonna teach you something every single time. What it taught me was that on bigger scale productions I want to do pre-production but what It also taught me was that with one camera, one lens, no money, some photo and some video you can make a beautiful fi-- or at least to some people, what will be called a beautiful film and a masterpiece. I feel like a lot of film institutions-- I know you feel the same way because you told me--  A lot of film institutions will swear to you up and down that you have to be so conventionally or traditionally correct and it’s like no! It’s an artform, of course there’s general rules we follow when it comes to scriptwriting, of course there’s general rules we tend to follow maybe even when it comes to filmmaking, for the most part. If you’re an artist, your vision is your vision, nobody can take that away from you and you can go make a film doing anything. You can go make a film off one film camera, with one roll of film, some narration and some music. You can do anything, you can draw a whole film and nobody can take that away from you. It sucks that as filmmakers we’re conditioned to believe that we have to make certain moves or compromise to get in the industry unless we’re prodigies and its like... fuck you! Who’s to say you, or I or anybody else aren’t prodigies bro? Who’s to say we have to do anything? What if I didn’t wanna be in the mainstream film industry? What if I didn’t wanna be Hollywood, then what? Regarding black people in film,  every film of mine, the main character will be black, the person who gets the most screen time will be black.

LAMZY: That’s code.

ELIJAH: Absolutely, bro you can see it in all my work, from all the things I’ve done since young. I will always support  and put on for black filmmakers because why? We’re cold as fuck. We have the mind bro. We have the most beautiful brains in history and we get our ideas consistently stolen, you feel me? That’s code till I die.

LAMZY: Truly. This short film is one that could be defined as abstract or arthouse, I was curious as to how many people in your life engage with these types of films on a regular basis and how was it showing this film to people who have never seen a film from an Ozu or a Tarkovsky, how did your friends and family react to Y,ir?

ELIJAH: I have a couple of people in my life that fuck with heavy cinephile shit, avant garde stuff and whatnot. Mostly because they are either filmmakers or film enthusiasts to a degree. The one that stands out the most is my Pops. He always supported me, pushed me and made me better. My Dad is never gonna watch an Ozu film, If that happens I simply won’t believe it. The last film he saw of mine other than “Absence of Color.” was “And So, It Goes”. He thought Absence of Color. was different, he thought it was pretty sick and the thing about my Pops is he’s very New York , he’s blunt that way. He never coddles me. My mom’s gonna be the one to do that, Pops will simply tell me how it is. When I showed him Y,ir, he doesn’t even remember the name of  it he refers  to it “The French Joint” [laughs]. When I showed him, he was like “That’s your best film easily”. He thought it was one of the most beautiful films he’d ever seen. So yeah, I’d have to say my Pops primarily and maybe a couple of other people like my shortie, my girl. She don’t really watch avant-garde, arthouse films and she watched it and she thought it was absolutely beautiful as well.

LAMZY: It’s a beautiful thing when people are introduced to that form of cinema through someone they know, especially because it’s YOUR film, you’re revealing an aspect of yourself that’s mostly found in conversation...I have a real question though, was your main actor typing on that keyboard for real?

ELIJAH: [laughs] You know what’s funny, or it to be easier for him, we put the Y,ir document on one side of the screen and we had a blank document on the other side, I just told him to write it up.

LAMZY: I was genuinely curious. You’re a busy guy Elijah, a busy guy who’s about to go on a crazy run. The way I was introduced to you was through awareness of your upcoming debut feature film, Absence of Color. What’s the update with that? I’m trying to see one of the best films of 2022 or 2023.

ELIJAH: Appreciate it heavy, The kind words mean everything to me every single time. Me and Aryan, the head of SBA Entertainment, my main distributor. We’re aiming for a November 2022 releaase, we’re gonna begin promoting really soon actually, just trying to figure out a couple of things regarding a theatrical rollout.

LAMZY:  You’re MADEINTHEURL, how has the internet impacted how you view filmmaking and building a network or community in this space?

ELIJAH: I’ll put it like this, I very much admire it and at times I don’t. I admire it very much when it comes to building a community, I mean, look at us. One day, we’ll be able to do this in person. The digital age is very sick when it comes to acknowledging the fact that people from around the world can view my work. That’s so sick to me. The one thing I dislike, and this comes more so with social media, is people making films simply for an Instagram or TikTok aesthetic, treating films like content when it’s not. Filmmaking saves people lives, I wouldn’t be here today without films. We should never treat it as anything that can be easily replaced, it’s disrespectful to the art form and the predecessors who laid the foundation. I’mma name drop right here, the most recent film I could think about, one that I just saw a week ago. It was pretty dissapointing because I respect this studio’s output but the A24 film, Bodies, Bodies, Bodies. To me, that felt like it was put out simply for pandering purposes, the dialogue felt like nothing that would be said in real life. I can tell the company is making a literal transition because they have very arthouse-y films, some experimental pieces but this film felt like a money grab. It felt very easy, accessible and artistic but who am I? To say what’s art and what’s not. Fuck it, SBA Entertainment, best film studio ever, coming very soon. 

LAMZY: What was your first gamer tag?

ELIJAH: jjj33

LAMZY: jjj33, one of the greatest filmmakers of the coming decade, pleasure to speak with you.

ELIJAH: Thank you.
more filmmakers Elijah wished to shout out 
Ciara Lloyns
Abe Nevin
Aryan Chaudhari
John Olorun
Jordan Alexander
Jose Alvarado
Karabo Mokoena

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.