By Dylan Deprey
At the 2015 Sun Dance Film Festival, avid moviegoers and film fanatics alike fell in love with the quirky, Harvard-bound, hip-hop head, skateboard-riding trio residing in the gang ridden neighborhoods of Inglewood, CA.
The crime comedy-drama “Dope,” revolved around three African American characters dabbling into a hustler’s world after accidentally receiving a backpack of the party drug, Molly. At the same time an up-and-coming filmmaker Steven Caple Jr. was hustling a similar script, only much darker and realistic.
“The Land” follows four skateboarders in inner city Cleveland fighting to make it out and follow their dreams in becoming professional skateboarders. Their urban playground is a gang and drug infested neighborhood, which stands as the backdrop for other hurdles in life including drug addiction, prostitution and poverty.
The boys get more then they bargained for when they stumble upon a large amount of molly, and start selling it to sponsor their skate career. Money comes pouring in and changes their lives forever. The future was looking bright until until they catch a local drug kingpin’s attention whose similar shipment of molly was stolen. “The Land” is a stark reality into the underbelly world of the street life and the consequences that comes with it.
Writer and director Steven Caple Jr. watched movies like “Boyz N The Hood” and “Juice,” as a kid. Both films brought the struggles of living on the streets of New York and L.A. to the masses, but there was no lens focused on the Midwest. Caple Jr said “The Land” is a reflection of his own past and experiences while living in Cleveland.
“I used it as a way of therapy, I guess, to tell my story,” Caple Jr. said.
He depicted his life firsthand in the “The Land,” as the audience follows one of the characters Junior (Moises Arias) and his younger sister and single mother working as hard as she can as a nursing assistant. Even the unlikely white suburban drug kingpin Big Mama was loosely based on a woman Caple Jr. knew growing up with is drug dealing uncle.
“This woman would always drive around in her Astro Van with her two sons and would give us dollars, pieces of fireworks and gum,” Caple Jr. said. “When I was older around 14-15, I found out she was the go-to woman to buy weed from in Cleveland.”
He also said that on an emotional level he felt the same pain and resentment the main character Cisco (Jorge Lendeborg Jr.) had for his struggling recovering heroin addict uncle Steve.
“In the movie Uncle Steve had a drug addiction and I am Steven Jr. And my dad is Steven Sr., and he had a crazy drug addiction,” Caple Jr. said.
The main premise of the film in that skateboarders use drug dealing to sponsor themselves was actually based off of a group of skateboarders Caple Jr. met when he was going to school for film at USC. As a student, Caple Jr. took the two kids who had never left their neighborhood and introduced them to a different lifestyle outside of the “hood.” One of the teens ended up getting sponsored and followed his dreams of becoming a professional skateboarder, and stopped drug dealing. The other disappeared and has not been in touch with Caple Jr. ever since.
“He was the one that got away, and he was the best of the skateboarders that I followed,” Caple Jr. said.
“The Land” was part of the Black Lens selection for the 2016 Milwaukee Film Festival. Black Lens showcases black themed films by black directors from around the country.
Caple Jr. said that he wanted the film to be a cautionary tale that expressed the true consequences of the drug dealing lifestyle to teens and young adults across the country. He said that unlike Spike Lee’s more forward preaching-style of getting his main point across, he wanted to leave audiences feeling the same way, but in a more indirect way.
Caple Jr. said that the underlying tone of the movie and its ending had him shuffling from studio to studio for around a year, all while the similar film “Dope” was making headlines across the country. He said that studios were more interested in adding some kind of big skateboard contest or a Fast and the Furious type of action sequence, but he wanted the ending to be as realistic as possible.
“I never saw a cautionary tale where the lead character was sucked into the game and never followed his dreams,” Caple Jr. said. “I wanted to show the youth that there are consequences to their actions.”