Like so many other budding artists, Skinner Myers moved from New York City to Los Angeles in 2001 with a dream of jumping onto the big screen. Yet between acting classes, fruitless attempts to snag starring roles, and struggling to pay for rent and food, Myers found himself sinking into the merciless false promise of Hollywood.
Soon after, however, he went Uganda for a semester abroad after returning to college, where he filmed his first amateur feature-length documentary. Eventually, after studying at University of Southern California, Myers made his way to an unsuspecting destination for filmmaking: Colorado.
Over this past year, Myers has curated a tight-knit group of producers, directors, writers, and actors within the Colorado film scene, which Myers admiringly calls “experimental.” His first feature film, The Sleeping Negro, is part of this year’s Denver Film Festival lineup. “At the time I wrote this film, I was going through a frustrating time as a filmmaker—a TV show I was creating fell apart in negotiations,” he says. “Reassessing myself as a Black man in Hollywood trying to make Black stories, I decided to take my frustration out via cinema.”
The film is about a young Black man—known throughout the film only as “Man”—as he struggles to follow instructions from his white boss that would benefit the corporation at the sacrifice of Man’s personal identity. The narrative centers around Man’s struggles with his loved ones and culminates in a dream where Man must choose to fall in line with the oppressive system … or rise against it.
Myers started producing the film with only $2,000. On the first day of filming, his car was towed from its parked spot in downtown Los Angeles with all of Myers’ production equipment still inside. Later, as the crew wrapped up production, he realized one of his scenes came out botched due to a mistake in the filming process, which led to more lengthy delays as they had to bring back the cast to reshoot.
Despite these hurdles, The Sleeping Negro made its debut at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival in Utah, as well as the Champs-Elysees Film Festival in Paris, where it was nominated for the awards of Best Narrative Feature and American Feature Film, respectively.
As part of the Denver Film Festival, Denverites can catch the fruit of Myers’ labor in-person in theaters this weekend, as well as virtually. “I hope this film causes people to reassess their worldview—this world needs more empathy,” Myers says. “I hope they just watch it with an open mind.”
Given his knack for real-world storytelling, we asked Myers for his recommendations on other films to keep an eye on in this year’s festival.
Strawberry Mansion, directed by Kentucker Audley and Albert Birney
Set in a futuristic dystopia where everything, including dreams, are taxed and capitalized upon, this whimsical film follows a government agent who audits the dreams of an aging artist. The rest of the narrative is a surreal, hopeful romantic drama, as this unsuspecting government agent finds a chance at love.
Queen of Glory, directed by Nana Mensah
Sarah Obeng, a child of Ghanaian immigrants, drops out of her Columbia PhD program to follow her boyfriend to Ohio. But her adventure is burdened not only by the discovery that her boyfriend is actually a married man, but the sudden death of her mother. And when Obeng inherits her mother’s Christian bookstore back in the Bronx, she faces a plethora of new challenges, finding her own identity along the way.
Lingui, the Sacred Bonds, directed by Mahamat-Saleh Haroun
Mother and daughter duo, Amina and Maria, struggle to make ends meet in their home within N’Djamena, the capital city of Chad. When Maria becomes pregnant and is consequently expelled from school, the pair find themselves caught searching for access to an abortion in a country where doing so is taboo and illegal, fighting their way through life within a male-dominated, religious society.
Memoria, directed by Apichatpong Weerasethakul
Starring Tilda Swinton, Memoria follows a British botanist named Jessica as she’s awoken by a sudden explosion in the night in the Colombian city of Medellín. Jessica travels to Bogotá to visit her sister, who connects her with a sound engineer who attempts to recreate the sound in order to help Jessica determine its origins. She soon finds herself in the Colombian countryside, grappling with the idea that the sounds she hears may actually stem from a psychological burden.