Brown Paper Bags (2006) – By Joshua Samford

 Brown Paper Bags was a film I have been pretty anxious to see since getting word that it was going to be sent for my review about a month or so ago. Sadly due to some confusion here and there the film didn’t arrive until this past month, but I found the premise as something fresh. The African American community is often misrepresented in cinema and on the independent circuit there just seems to be too little representation whatsoever. So I was excited to recieve this short film despite only having vague ideas of what exactly it was really all about. The film is a short about the plight of a young guy recently released from jail who is basically just adapting back to regular society. He is back to his old habits, dealing in the park, hoping to get up some funds to impress his ex-girlfriend who he expects to have been waiting on him patiently as he has done his time. Well, there might be a little problem there, but then again – no one is perfect, as the film so eliquently shows us. Regardless, we follow along with the Ex as she goes through her life in the hood as well, and her troubles with her sister who has made it big in the business world. Classes clash and relationships are questioned in this short but highly comedic social commentary. Brown Paper Bag is a film of two minds, both showing the rather humorous sides of growing up in the inner city and also pointing out the unfair attitudes and feelings of racial seperation in black society. There are political allegorys thrown out in the film that range from slightly subtle to broad and in your face. From white society being represented by a white paper Bags alongside two business men by the name of George Washington and Abraham Lincoln, obviously representing white America trying to force black America to conform. Then there are moments such as when a character simply wears a heat-pressed shirt with a line that reads something like "Bill Clinton was impeached for getting head, while everyone is just peachey with Bush. What the…", I’ll let you fill in the rest. I respect that the filmmakers are actually well versed enough to realize our former president was actually impeached (a lot of people actually forget that since he was allowed to continue his term in office), but I can’t help but feel there are far more subtle ways to poke at the system. Brown Paper Bag is a film that wears the heart of its filmmaker on its sleeve and I commend it for that. With subject matter like this the short could have easily been all over the place with the serious ideas mixed with the silly humor, but ultimately the filmmaker figured a way to integrate both his social message for the African American community (which I hope is to never forget where you come from, and I hope that the moral isn’t try and run away from the business world/social success because of white domination), and a very funny and interesting view into the life of four people in a small community.

The use of paper bags throughout the film are almost always inventive, and are so plentiful that you almost lose sight and just how original the filmmakers get with the implementing their ideas. A paper bag in some form or fashion is almost in every frame of the movie. From using a paper bag as an inhaler, to a baggie for drugs, to using it to grill a sandwich, to doing a girl’s hair and even making a puppet out of a bag. There’s also a very big gag that comes in towards the end of that film that I won’t spoil for everyone out there, but it is by far the most outrageous. I love the way the film plays off the idea that this little household commodity is somehow and some way related to all facets of this modern life. It is an inventive and fun little bridge between scenes and keeps the film linked at all times, and helps keep the comedy appeal within the film even when things start to get heavy and I liked that. When watching Brown Paper Bag you can see how hard the filmmakers worked, and just how good they can and will be over time. In a lot of independent films you don’t see a lot that could be moved into a more commercial atmosphere, but what director Ephraim "Fetti" Benton brings is an obvious desire to be socially active as well as show a real inside look into an atmosphere some might not be familiar with, and for those who, something that they can relate to. There are scenes in Brown Paper Bags where you just know they are coming from a real place and most likely a real life situation. Scenes like when our leading man played by Benton sits in the bathroom, doing his business, and lights up a paper bag to get rid of the aroma but begins coughing on the smoke due to his asthma. It makes for one of the funniest scenes in the film, and whether or not Benton himself has had asthma – you just know something as crazy as that is coming from a real place. It’s one of those stories you always hear about a friend or a crazy cousin that gets embellished until it becomes mythic among inner circles; and it’s the quaint little things like that where Brown Paper Bags reall begins to shine.

Overall, Brown Paper Bags is a film that show tremendous promise from all involved. It doesn’t hold back in the least when it comes to its convictions and beliefs and adds a layer of credibility and genuine thought in what could have simply been a very funny comedy. You can’t help but at least respect the filmmakers and I am sure they are going to rise to bigger and better things if they continue to show these levels of determination. I definitely reccomend people see it, you can trust that it is a film from the heart and is bound to entertain people from all walks of life. You can read more on Black Beret Films and Brown Paper Bags from their myspace, located here