Garden of the Avant-Garde Film and Theatrical Foundation and Revalfilm (Estonia) are completing post production for "Used and Borrowed Time," a feature-length, experimental drama phantasma written and directed by Sophia Romma. A blind elderly Jewish woman relives her past through people she "sees" today, recalling her ill-fated love affair with a Black civil rights activist in Birmingham during the civil rights upheaval of the Sixties. Soon to be released to festivals, it pays homage to the French New Wave films of Goddard, Truffaut and Agnès Varda.
Sophia Romma is a playwright, screenwriter and poet who emigrated with her parents from Russia in the eighties. She is a resident playwright of The Mayakovsky Academic Art Theatre of Moscow, where the name Quantum Verse was coined to describe her literary style. The name derives from the question "How real is the universe?" and the notion that it may contain parallel dialogues, a simple one and a metaphysical one. Her other films include "Poor Liza," starring Ben Gazzara and Lee Grant, directed by Slava Tsukerman ("Liquid Sky"). Her theatrical plays are all written in a genre which she has labeled Drama Phantasma in Verse. They have been produced in New York by noted nonprofits including La MaMa Experimental Theatre and The Negro Ensemble Company, Inc.
"Used and Borrowed Time" is inspired by a tale that Romma and her mother heard from a chef on an Amtrak train about a tender ill-fated love between his young cousin, a young, Black civil rights activist, and an innocent blind Jewish girl in Birmingham, AL in the mid-sixties. The film renders this story with many of the hallmarks of Romma's stage work: surrealism, outbursts of verse, a historical sense that "the past is still ahead," gypsy characters and references to scars of the Holocaust.
On All-Saints Day in contemporary Birmingham, an elderly woman arrives with her daughter at an autumn fair. There is an unusually bitter Alabama frost and spooky doings are underfoot. Large cats and rabbits with glowing eyes appear in the background. A gypsy mystic offers fortunes. A burly fascist offers an ancient turtle, toads and salamanders for sale. A sharp-tongued southern lady sells magical pies in a carnival tent. An elderly blind woman, Eva Gold arrives supported by her daughter, Sonia. The daughter, distracted by the fortune-teller, leaves her mother to wander through the fair on her own. As the various vendors confront the old woman, there is an undercurrent of anti-semetic, venomous dialogue which prepares the audience for unpleasantness to come. Eva brushes off the reptile salesman when he identifies her as Jewish by her necklace and he makes uncomfortable references to Kristallnacht. She arrives at the pie tent and tastes one, but has no money to pay for it. It turns out that the vendor has spiked her pies with magic that will allow people to uncover their past lives. Paying customers learn nice things about themselves, but Eva is in for a bad trip.
While strong and resilient, Eva is abnormally perspicacious, so subtle emotional signs will be thunderingly strong to her. From the "dogwhistle" slurs she hears at the autumn fair, she is transported to her earlier life where she was, in fact, the innocent blind Jewish girl in the chef's story. Eva witnesses the tragic death of her African American soul mate at the hands of a clan of heartless white supremacists. It's not exactly a trip to the past, since in a Sophia Romma story, "the past is still ahead." Romma first explored this paradoxical theme in a 2007 play of that name about Marina Tsvetaeva, Soviet Russia's most famous poet. (It premiered at Mayakovsky Academic Art Theater, Moscow and The Studio @ Cherry Lane Theatre, NYC).
So while Eva is remembering the 1960's, her mind's eye is that of a blind woman and everything is happening simultaneously today and tomorrow. Her hallucinatory remembrances are the subtext she hears from contemporary people, so in her mind's eye, everyone is in 21st century dress. History, as she narrates it, is flagged by use of rhyming verse.
Most of the film is a hallucination, in which Eva is projected back to watch herself in her youth on a Christmas Eve. She watches young Eva and her fiancée, a handsome Black man named Steadroy Johnson, wander onto the property of the Woods family, a redneck clan ruled by its matriarch, Blanche. Blanche's ironclad power over her brother, Wade, and her son, Jed, is as strong as her mendacity and pious Christian hypocrisy. Their Christmas table is laid for a homecoming visit from Blanche's cowardly but well-married daughter, Kitty. The clan has a penchant for sexual abuse and sadistic hunting games. Suffice it to say that nothing will go well when young Eva and Steadroy fall into their hands. They are captured; Eva will survive; Steadroy won't.
Near the end of the film, Eva admits, "The greatest atrocity is complicity. I was their captive, I did what I needed to survive." With that, we are rocketed to the realization that this is not only a racial story, it is also partly a holocaust story. Romma is showing us how modern American racial violence reopens the scars of survivor guilt in second- and third-generation Holocaust survivors.
The unusually bitter Alabama frost was captured by filming in Long Island in 2019. Post-production is currently ongoing in Estonia by co-producer Revalfilm. Musical background for the Autumn Fair is contemporary songs by Queen Ilise and her four-piece band.
"Used and Borrowed Time" is a production of Garden of the Avant-Garde Film and Theatrical Foundation (https://gardenoftheavantgarde.com) in association with Revalfilm (Estonia). It will be released to festivals soon. Executive Producer is Renee Lekach. Cinematographer is Uladzimir Taukachou (A.S.C.). Film Editor is Sergio Voronin. Visual Effects are by Serjio Samokhvalov. Music is by Kevin Macleod. The actors (alphabetically) are Alice Bahlke as Lorna Woods and Kitty O'Neill, Marshall Bonny as father of Steadroy Johnson, Clas Duncan as Steadroy Johnson, Manana Gitana as Roma Sorceress, Seth Hendricksen as the reptile salesman, Ox King as rescuer, Cam Kornman as Older Eva Gold, Grant Morenz as Wade Woods, Maureen O'Connor as Blanche Woods, Gavin Rohrer as Jed Woods and Emily Seibert as Younger Eva Gold.