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New Short Film Discusses Black Identity as an American Ex-Pat in Paris [NSFW]

'The Leftovers' creator Damon Lindelof talks to Tamara P. Carter about her new series short, 'The Paris Project'.

'The Leftovers' creator Damon Lindelof talks to Tamara P. Carter about her new series short, 'The Paris Project'.

VICE Staff

Spoiler alert: We give away a fair amount about the plot of the film below.

This originally appeared on VICE US.

In The Paris Project, writer-director Tamara P. Carter (The Leftovers) tells the story of Brooklyn artist Michael Wynton (played by Terence Nance), who is trying to start a new life for himself in Paris with his fiancé (played by Nia Andrews). But as Michael attempts to embark upon his newly realized domestic bliss, he finds himself confronted with remnants of his dark past and is forced to venture back into Paris's drug-fueled underground art scene, accompanied by his ex-girlfriend Anaïs (played by Marie-France Alvarez), to settle an unpaid debt.

The indie drama was inspired by Carter's own decades-long experience as an expat living abroad and is an interweaving of stories and relationships pulled from her life. The short uses the framework of a crime thriller as the backdrop for a larger conversation about how racial identity is impacted and influenced by geography.

Carter conceptualized The Paris Project while she was working as a writer on the final season of HBO's The Leftovers and claims that although creator Damon Lindelof was very supportive of her throughout the season, he was the last person to see the series short before its premiere today because she was scared to send it to him. "Damon is super smart and super picky and basically a genius, and I know how his creative brain works so I was afraid he'd ask me questions that I couldn't answer, " she said to VICE in an email. She sent it anyway. And after he watched it, he did have a lot of questions for her. Luckily, she was able to answer them. Below is their exchange that has been edited and condensed for clarity.

All photos by Romain Jacquot for Stuy Pix Media

Damon Lindelof: T., I thought your movie was incredible.
Tamara P. Carter:
Are you sure you watched the right film?

Yep. But I have questions so bear with me. Mike starts by saying a number of things will come to surface about his pastnone of them are true. At the end, he revises this slightly to say that some of them are true. Do you want us to trust him? More importantly, do you want us to trust you?
Wow. Just like you to come out of the gate with a question like that. I'd love for people to trust me—to earn their trust as a storyteller. Mostly, I'd want them to trust that the journey that they're going on with Michael will be as authentic and contradictory and human as I can make it. When Paris opens, Michael's convinced himself that he isn't who he used to be, but by the end, he's forced to reconcile with himself, that he's going to have to deal with the horrible things that are coming to the surface. Traits that he thought he could repress, ones he wanted to correct so badly are bubbling back up. Not just with the crimes that he may have committed in the past, but with the love he had for his ex, Anaïs. Hopefully, in future episodes, we'll get to dig further into his past and I think maybe we'll eventually trust Michael as much as he trusts himself.

What's it like to film in Paris?
Easier. I mean creatively, I'm inspired. I feel free. I know certain areas of Paris as I do Brooklyn so I chose to shoot in a neighborhood that was familiar to me. I'm also closer to the continent [Africa] and the community cultures are very dedicated and involved and passionate and still operate without pretense. So it's like, "who's ready to shoot an indie crime drama for no money?" Everyone is. Anything I need—done. No red tape. Just friends from all over Europe— some that I've known since I was young, pitching in to help. Things move quicker and smoother because we're on the same page creatively, and that's a privilege in itself. Congolese, Syrian, German, British, Senegalese, French, American... my film crew was like the United Nations of indie TV. Quentin Daniel was an amazing producer. We shot most of the scenes at Creative Labo, a really dope concept shop owned by Odilon Ngonda, who's a killer designer and knows everyone in the city. There were a flux of Parisian artists in and out of production base camp offering their creative services to the production and I got to work with my long time friends Terence, Marie-France, Nia and Shawn Peters—my absolute favorite DP.

Mike sits in bed talking about why there's no place for him in the States. The reason for this is almost entirely cultural, that the way a black man is treated in Paris is quantifiably better than the way a black man is treated even in Brooklyn—one of the most "woke" places in the US (and I use those quotes to denote sarcasm as any white man who claims to be woke ain't woke). James Baldwin and Ta-Nehisi Coates also found their way to Paris. Talk about the city and why it's a mecca for great black writers and artists.
The way that black Americans are treated in Paris... is it different? Abso-fucking-lutely. I'm sure people have had experiences that contradict what I'm about to share, but I've found in 20 years, even as a loud teenager from Brooklyn, when I walked into a shop [in Paris] I wasn't feared, I wasn't expected to steal anything or be a failure, the stereotypes are sort of weirdly reversed. Paris is definitely not a utopia and I can't say that being treated equally is the case for every person of African descent there, because of the way my Congolese and Algerian friends are treated. The racism and prejudice they experience, although less aggressive than ours, is still flat out insane. So in the scene you're talking about, Michael is trying to explain the experience and feels a sort of survivors guilt.

One of the reasons that I wanted to tell this story is because we hear a lot about Baldwin and Josephine Baker living in Paris but it all seems so distant, like a fairytale. But a lot of us right here in 2017—especially those of us from art or jazz families, either live there part time or visit every summer to escape the racism that we've experienced all year [in the US]. These people are from New York and DC. Brooklyn is incredibly diverse but still, we have to share it with people who haven't learned to play nice with diversity. I've been making the trip since I was 12 years old, and it's the same feeling every year. When I get off of the plane I'm exhausted from being picked apart by the psychological stresses of unchecked white supremacy. The murders... those videos... they fucking wear on us, man.

I can't imagine. [Your] piece openly challenges the idea of monogamy and seems to make a case for it as a failing institution, not to mention, an impediment to great art. Am I reading that right?
I can't say the short makes a case for monogamy as a failure. The characters are having conversations that my friends and I have had. I think across the board our generation is open minded, tolerant, and willing to push things a bit by honestly exploring the concepts of marriage and nonmonogamy. I think Michael and his fiancé Samuelle are open to their relationship expanding, or at least Samuelle thinks she is. Michael has experienced polyamory with his ex-love Anaïs and knows how complicated things can get. The two created great art together but the relationship was tumultuous. I think both types of relationships can be stimulating. It depends on who the partners are and how much they inspire each other.

Do you have a preference?
I've experienced polyamorous relationships and at the present, prefer monogamy. Writing is stressful enough! I like the idea of one stop shopping. I like coming home to my girl every night. But I haven't always felt that way. And I may not always feel the way that I do now. That's what the characters are debating in the film. The discussion is more of an exploration of the institutions than a declaration.

Mike says: "I can't take credit for depicting reality." Isn't that the only thing worth depicting in art? Because this piece feels very, very real.
I just want to say it feels like you're assigning me writers' room homework right now. This feels very Leftovers-y. Is reality the only thing worth depicting? It depends. A lot of the art we're creating especially that of oppressed or marginalized cultures tends to almost mirror forms of journalism—be super political, or a response to a stimulus, whether the stimulus is racism, poverty, homophobia, sexism, xenophobia. But my friends and I kind of kick around the idea of what if we could escape those stimuli? What if those horrible variables didn't exist? What would our art look like then? I think what Michael means is he didn't create the reality he's depicting. From his POV, he was operating as a news reporter of sorts, recreating a version of a familiar narrative. But as an artist, he's more into the imaginative, the fantastical.

I love how ambiguous the ending of the film is (you know me and ambiguity!). I'm not sure if Mike is alive or dead and I never see who puts a bullet in the head of the woman in the mirror. A re you cool with multiple interpretations here, or do you want people to "get it?"
Definitely cool with multiple interpretations. Paris is a series short, not a pilot. It's a way into the characters and their world, so setting up questions was more important to me than delivering answers.

One of the things that I took from our writers room— something that you never ever compromised on, was writing for the smartest viewer in the room. I'm okay with multiple interpretations of an ending or a beginning because it gives me freedom to explore more than one reality for a character. Big Little Lies did that really well this season. And look at how many questions we set up in the pilot of season three of our show? In fact, I think The Leftovers ushered in a new era where people are more content with not immediately "getting it" than they are with being spoon-fed. Audiences are emotionally intelligent and dissecting everything on social media like detectives, so I just try to write from an authentic place and trust them to make of things what they will.

For almost a year I was in a conference room with you, Nick, Patrick, Haley, Kyle, Carly, Lila and both Toms, having the "hope people get it" squeezed out of me. That was the most fearless giving no fucks writing experience I've ever had and I hope I managed to transfer even a tiny bit of that to The Paris Project. To be honest, I just hope people watch it. And I hope Brooklyn loves it. That'll be enough for me.

Damon Lindelof is the creator of The Leftovers and Lost. Tamara P. Carter is the writer and director of The Paris Project. For behind the scenes photos and music from the short click here.