In a blend of fiction and reality, ‘Five Star‘ explores the relationship between two men– Primo (James “Primo” Grant), a general in the East New York Bloods, and John (John Diaz), a young man trying to decide whether gang life is the path for him. As Primo mentors John in the workings of his crew, a secret threatens both men’s futures. Based closely on elements of the actors’ real lives, the film is a nuanced portrait of two men struggling with gang life, and an intimate contemplation of manhood in the modern urban environment.
Anticipating ‘Five Star‘ Screening at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival we profile the film’s Director Keith Miller. The film screens as part of the World Narrative Competition on Thursday, April 17, Friday, April 18, Monday, April 21 and Saturday, April 26, 2014 in New York City.
Find More Information & Tickets to ‘Five Star’ at the 2014 Tribeca Film Festival – HERE
What made you decide to make a film about modern-day gang culture in Brooklyn?
While the movie is set within the context of a gang, this is not, for me, a film about gang culture. Instead, I see it as a film about what it means to be a man, and the various nuanced and complex meanings that has. I was interested in working within this framework because I realized I had never seen a film told in this way in this setting. The personal, social and political world that makes up the landscape of the film, as well as the specifics of Brooklyn today, were my main focus.
Your film blends reality and fiction. James “Primo” Grant, for example, plays a version of himself, even using his own street name. How much of the film was scripted, and to what extent did you base it on real people and events? What made you decide that this blend of fiction and reality was the right mode of storytelling for your film?
I began to work in this mode before my last film (‘Welcome to Pine Hill‘). My interest in this type of storytelling arose in part through my desire to engage with political and social realities in a way that didn’t seem pedagogical or dogmatic, but instead was based on real events on the ground. But I also didn’t want to make documentary. My main problem with issue based narrative filmmaking was that I knew I always had an out: this is not real. The issue for me with documentary was that while it often promised to be a truth, I knew it was just as constructed as a narrative. I thought by working within the space between those two, any certainty would be removed and it would charge the story.
The story and the plot are completely scripted. In terms of dialogue and specific language, it is hard to say, but a bit more than half is scripted, maybe even more. How did you go about casting the film? What made you decide to work with the real “Primo?” What did he bring to the project?
I met Primo through Shannon Harper, the star of ‘Welcome to Pine Hill‘. They had been bouncers in the same bar. I did a short piece with him called Gang Banging 101 and after that he expressed interest in doing a longer piece. Through our conversations I began to develop a story that was in part inspired by some of the things he talked about.
The Bloods are featured prominently in “Five Star.” How did the New York gang community—the Bloods in particular—react when they initially learned of your project? Do you think they will like or dislike the final cut?
I can’t speak to what they or anyone will think of the movie. I hope they find it refreshing and interesting and most of all that they feel it shows Primo and John in a respectful and human light.
What do you hope Tribeca viewers will learn about gang life in New York that they didn’t know beforehand?
I had been interested to look at the complications, challenges and nuances of manhood, fatherhood and father-son relationships. When I met Primo it was clear he shared similar concerns. While set in a specific context, I am not sure what will be learned about gang life. I am more interested that the viewers learn about their own views on these subjects. If there is a hope for learning built in to the movie, it is to challenge assumptions about what a father looks like, and who might be a good father. This would include someone who is a part of any collection of people, social or economic group or gang.
– Interview Prepared By David Teich
About The Director
Keith Miller is a filmmaker, painter, curator, and professor. A member of the Brooklyn Filmmakers Collective, he made his first short film in 2004. His first feature-length film, Welcome to Pine Hill, premiered in 2012 at the Slamdance Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize, winning a total of five Jury prizes. Five Star is his second feature film.