A Sundance-Winning Film Set in San Francisco Mixes Documentary Style With Moments of Surrealism

The Last Black Man in San Francisco stars Jimmie Fails and is directed by Joe Talbot.

In her review for the Washington Post, film critic Ann Hornaday says the new film The Last Black Man in San Francisco “virtually defies conventional description. To see it is to believe it, even when it doesn’t strictly make sense.”

Jimmie Fails dreams of reclaiming the Victorian home his grandfather (Danny Glover) built in the heart of San Francisco. Joined on his quest by his best friend Mont (Jonathan Majors), Jimmie searches for belonging in a rapidly changing city that seems to have left them behind. As he struggles to reconnect with his family and reconstruct the community he longs for, his hopes blind him to the reality of his situation.

A wistful odyssey populated by skaters, squatters, street preachers, playwrights, and other locals on the margins, The Last Black Man in San Francisco is a poignant and sweeping story of hometowns and how they’re made—and kept alive—by the people who love them.

“Slender and endowed with an open, expressive face the camera loves, Fails is a natural on the screen, exuding a beatific presence that earns immediate empathy,” says Hornaday. “He and Majors enjoy an easy camaraderie, as Jimmie and Mont respond to circumstances that put the house enticingly within their reach. Talbot—who grew up with Fails in San Francisco, and who won a prize at Sundance for directing The Last Black Man in San Francisco—blends a documentarian’s feel for the realities of his hometown with dashes of surrealism and playful affection reminiscent of Spike Lee and Charles Burnett. Within the life story of one young man trying to rescue his past and claim a right of return, the filmmaker finds an epic history that encompasses postwar migration, the flourishing of the ‘Harlem of the West,’ the Haight Ashbury in the ’60s, redlining, gentrification, environmental racism and the chronic policing of black masculinity.”

Read the full review here.