SXSW 2024: The Black Sea World Premiered in the Narrative Feature Competition

Indie filmmaker Crystal Moselle (The Wolfpack, 2015) had her latest feature, The Black Sea, world premiere at this month’s 2024 SXSW Film & Television Festival. The film is co-directed by Derrick B. Harden, who also stars as Khalid, a Black man from Brownsville (a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York). As the film begins, a woman is consulting someone who may be a healer with some “psychic abilities” or something of the sort. The latter tells the woman what may help cure her of who knows what. Since the cure is not readily available, the suggested resource is to use social media.

Khalid’s first scene in the film is when he arrives late and quits his job in a coffee shop, with the owners dismayed by his announcement of leaving for Bulgaria for better opportunities. He thinks he hit the big time with a promise to be paid for “adult time.” Khalid shows up in Sozopol in time to be told the woman had died three hours prior. Dead or non–existent at that point, Khalid is escorted out by a man who can communicate in English (and thinks Khalid is confused and refuses to give him any money). Toting his duffel bag, Khalid is left to face life alone. The audience learns how Khalid survives on his own devices and charm – assuming this is how he hustles in New York – as there is so much not yet relayed about this character’s background. Why is he so eager to leave New York?

The filmmakers are not hurrying to tell the audience as Khalid’s adventure unfolds. In Sozopol, he needs somewhere to go, and finding a place to stay is difficult among the locals. He does not speak the language, but he makes himself understood, even by the elders. We assume he has limited funds and no credit cards since he ends up picking a spot to lay his head for a while. The streets don’t sleep, and of course, the predictable happens—his tote bag with the passport is stolen.

Khalid continues to appeal to the locals with his New Yorker charm and makes friends with a travel agent, Ina (Irmena Chichikova). She will help book him a flight until he finally states his passport is stolen. Of course, she is suspicious of him and sends him on his way to seek work or other resources. As kind as many locals appear to be, he does have his run-ins with the seedier side of the Bulgarian coastal town. Georgi (Stoyo Mirkov) is one of the locals, but it doesn’t take long to pick up that his “employment” is not above board or one that most people want. There is a scene where Khalid is told to pick up something as part of his cleaning duties. The demand for how to do it can be interpreted as belittling if not racism. It is Khalid’s one-liner as he quits the job then and there that the audience knows how much and how little he is willing to put up with. He is not in America, but it feels similar.

Khalid continues to form bonds with the locals, and despite the original suspicion, Ina begins to change and try to help him in his plight. Eventually, he has an idea for making and serving one of the drinks from his former job, then together come up with a twist on a simple snack to offer at an “outdoor café” style of service (in front of the travel agency). While it swiftly becomes a new famous place, the use of the space is not embraced by all – especially those who try to control the city.

Harden and Chichikova’s performances are a big plus for this film, given their on-screen chemistry. Theirs is a solid friendship between two strangers who develop trust after living through tough times. We will see them in more films where others can see their talents, both in music and in film.

This comedy/drama was shot on location in Bulgaria with no script, non-actors, and a local crew (according to the film’s release for SXSW).

The Black Sea screened at the 2024 SXSW Film Festival, and we will post any news of distribution so that more audiences can see it in the future.

Source: SXSW, Give Thanks, Kotva Films

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