Prior to its release early this fall, Barry Jenkins admitted that making Moonlight nearly killed him. Thanks to a persistent producer and a loyal playwright, he kept at it, and the breakout director's sophomore feature film garnered critical acclaim across the board (from us, too). Moonlight has grossed more than $9 million at the box office, making it one of the most successful indie films this year.
But 13 years ago, Jenkins was just a film student with a celluloid dream. At Florida State University, the director met his Moonlight cinematographer James Laxton, who would become his career-long collaborator. Together, Jenkins and Laxton made Jenkins's first film, My Josephine, an eight-minute multilingual short about a young man who works in a laundromat and falls in love with his coworker, Adela, as they wash American flags for patrons. The short betrays Jenkins's sensitivity to his protagonists' inner lives; the main character in My Josephine speaks largely in narration, and his inner monologue bears echoes of the sensitive Chiron (Moonlight's main character). "Something that never touches the ground shouldn’t be dirty," the character muses of the flags he cleans. The cinematography, too, features the same cool, bluish tones the pair would later evoke in Moonlight.
In the film's Vimeo description, Jenkins writes that the film was "inspired by three things: the marquee of a Tallahassee laundromat shortly after 9/11 reading 'American Flags Cleaned Free,' an image in my head of two people sitting atop folding tables, and my housemate at the time being obsessed with Napoleon."
"We were very young men when we made this film," Jenkins concludes.