Getting a little less attention than glossier fare like “The Avengers” and “Cowboys & Aliens” in the four-day firestorm of Comic-Con unveilings the past weekend was the announcement that “A Contract With God” was headed to the big screen, indie-style.
Will Eisner’s masterpiece, which consists of four semi-autobiographical short stories set in the Bronx and its environs in the 1930s, is considered a landmark of the form. It’s one of the main texts, along with “Watchmen” and “Maus,” that gets brought up by people making the case for the potential of comic books and graphic novels as art forms.
Each of the four parts of “A Contract With God” will be handled, anthology-style, by one of four up-and-coming indie filmmakers. The dream team and the segments they’ll each handle:
Sean Baker: “Cookalien”
One of the creators of the “Greg the Bunny” franchise, formerly of IFC, then Fox, then IFC again, then MTV, Baker directed and co-wrote the naturalistic New York City immigrant tales “Take Out” (2004) (which you can currently stream on Netflix Instant) and “Prince of Broadway” (2008), along with his 2000 debut “Four Letter Words” (also on Netflix Instant).
Tze Chun: “The Street Singer”
“Children of Invention,” Chun’s semi-autobiographical debut about kids whose mother gets nabbed due to her involvement with a pyramid scheme, won over a dozen prizes on the festival circuit before being self-distributed in theaters this year. Two of Chun’s shorts are online — the 2006 film “Windowbreaker” and Future States contribution “Silver Sling.”
Barry Jenkins: “The Super”
Barry Jenkins’ feature debut “Medicine for Melancholy” (trailer’s here) a San Francisco-set romance starring a pre-“Daily Show” Wyatt Cenac, was one of the breakouts at the 2008 SXSW Film Festival, going on to Gotham and Spirit Award nominations before receiving a theatrical release last year.
Alex Rivera: “A Contract With God”
Alex Rivera’s first film, the sci-fi allegory “Sleep Dealer,” was set in a future where virtual reality separated immigrant labor from immigrants. The film premiered at Sundance in 2008, where it picked up both the Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize and the Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award. Check out his “Borders Trilogy” of shorts.
It’s an impressive array of diverse, talented directors. Though, as a colleague asked when I sent him the announcement, shouldn’t someone Jewish be involved in directing these stories set in and about a Jewish immigrant community? It’s a question I posed to the film’s writer/producer Darren Dean (“Prince of Broadway”), who responds:
The directors were chosen based on the fact that they were telling these remarkable immigrant and socially/culturally relevant stories of their own. Part of the selection process was a bit of a “what if” scenario. The idea of taking them out of their comfort zones and challenging them to tell stories from a world that — at first glance — was not their own was an intriguing concept.
Having interviewed Eisner years ago and developed a correspondence with him, it seemed like something he would embrace. These stories are relevant to everyone so, while maintaining the faithful, Jewish themes, the idea was to offer a fresh perspective on the graphic novel. Obviously, I’m aware that we may face some scrutiny on this level, but I’m also confident that the directors will each deliver a fascinating, honest portrayal of these timeless characters.
The film will start shooting in 2011.