This is an extraordinary piece. One that I imagine would play many prestigious festivals and win many awards if filmmaker Alan Spearman were to go that route; instead we are gifted with it online with little notice or fanfare.
Chris Dean was celebrated when he introduced President Obama at his High School graduation, and Spearman, a photojournalist for the local Memphis Commercial Appeal took notice. He, along with cinematographer Mark Adams followed Dean around his poor Memphis neighborhood for eight weeks to learn more about the environment which shaped this remarkable young man.
Told in Dean’s own words, the film is a long spoken word poem describing his thoughts and feelings regarding the places and people that make up his home. As I Am is the result, a wonderfully beautiful and sensitive film that describes Dean’s hopes, fears, and more than anything, his sensitivity and grace.
What I love more than anything is the way this film turns the concept of the short profile doc inside out. A profile doc is by its nature outside in. A filmmaker focuses on an iconic or inconoclastic figure and builds them up. If the filmmaker ventures outside this bubble, it is to interview the impact and inspiration this figure exudes. As I Am flips that formula around. Dean is given little introduction or buildup, and instead the profile begins with the fundamental assertion that he is a worthy subject and uses him as a lens to explore a community and a culture.
It is a wonderful work, and now, after premiering on the Memphis Commercial Appeal’s website, we can hopefully help give it a larger audience. Either way Spearman is a talent to watch. Already the recipient of many prestigious photojournalism awards, he has increasingly been doing these naturalistic video works through the newspaper. See his Vimeo account for more examples. Having done set photography for a couple of films by local hero Craig Brewer (Hustle and Flow) he is reportedly working with the filmmaker to develop a feature film, which I desperately hope pans out.