When hard-working Francisco leaves Harlem on a scholarship to a ritzy prep school in upstate New York, his new acquaintances treat him like a seductively dangerous novelty.
Up With Me, directed by UW-Madison graduate Greg Takoudes on a meager $20,000 budget, at first seems like it could fall into the same trap. Thankfully, the Harlem Movie Project concept -- to create a collaborative film with non-professional teenage actors playing semi-fictional versions of themselves -- is novel, but never gimmicky, due to refreshingly raw and unaffected performances.
The film provides a brief, but up-close and highly intimate glimpse into the teens' lives at the pivotal point when Francisco's relationships with his girlfriend, Erika, and best friend, Brandon, are strained to their limits. We watch with a sense of inevitability as Francisco becomes torn between home and school, his boys and his girlfriend, opportunity and obligation. The subtle, winding score guides the story toward a restrained and quietly tragic conclusion.
The small crowd at the Bartell Theatre on Friday night was privileged to an even more intimate understanding of the film, thanks to the post-screening appearances of Takoudes, his co-writer Maeve McQuillan, and Madison native Leo Sidran, who composed part of the score.