Emerging filmmaker describes ups and downs Assessment: 'Homicide' writer Darryl LaMont Wharton saw progress last year in movies by or with African-Americans. His own work, 'Detention,' begins the festival circuit next month.

January 25, 1998|By Ann Hornaday | Ann Hornaday,SUN FILM CRITIC

Darryl LaMont Wharton, a writer on "Homicide," sees 1997 as the year that started weakly but rallied for a strong finish. "Thank God it got better at the end of the year," he says. "At the beginning it was 'Booty' and 'B.A.P.S.' and 'How to Be a Player.' It grew up quickly with 'Soul Food' and 'Eve's Bayou,' and the cap was 'Amistad.' And 'Jackie Brown' could be included in there."

Wharton recently put the finishing touches on his feature debut, "Detention," which he filmed in Baltimore in 1996 and describes as "an urban 'Breakfast Club.' " How did 1997 look to an emerging black filmmaker?

"I'm encouraged that the industry is looking at the possibility that there are other stories than the urban story or the 'hood story or the basketball story, or even comedy," he says. "But right now, being extremely independent, it's still discouraging because if you get a film started, you don't know if you'll get the money to finish it or get distribution for it. But -- big risk, big return."

Wharton is confident that "Detention," which embarks on the festival circuit next month, will succeed even if the current wave of African-American films subsides. "I think my film, even though it's African-American-centered and all the characters are African-American, has universal appeal. It's very urban, which may not play in Iowa, but I think in a lot of ways the story itself hits home with a lot of young people. I figure at the least I can get a video deal."

Pub Date: 1/25/98

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