Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

Official newspaper of The University of Texas at Austin

The Daily Texan

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October 4, 2022

‘The Black Sea’ navigates ‘cinematic freestyling’ through experimental film set in Bulgaria

Courtesy of Jackson Hunt

When Derrick B. Harden first traveled to Bulgaria, he didn’t set out to make a movie about his experience. But, over the course of his time in the eastern European country, he got together with co-director Crystal Moselle and co-producer Isabella Tzenkova to document his experience. Because of the 2023 Writers Guild of America strike, which took place during the time of filming, the crew opted against the traditional narrative feature format with a pre-written screenplay. They decided to let the story unfold right before their eyes. 

The film follows Khalid (Harden), who develops ‘unexpected connections’ in a small town in Bulgaria after a job opportunity goes awry. Because of his alienation as the only Black man in the area, he meets people very easily, including a local woman, whom the story follows for the rest of the film. 

“I make hip hop music … and (Moselle)’s nature is documentary filmmaker,” Harden said. “There was a point when I realized, ‘Oh my God, this is like a cinematic freestyle.’” 

The film, which premiered on Saturday as a part of the Narrative Feature Competition at South by Southwest, is inspired predominantly by Harden’s experience as a Black man in the Balkans and the people’s relationship with hip-hop music. 

“I was like the ball of the yo-yo, you just roll it and something’s gonna happen, and that’s what happened to me,” Harden said. “All you had to do is just bring a camera and be there.”

From behind the camera, co-director and co-producer Moselle said she knew Harden would make for an interesting feature collaborator.

“(Harden) has a very charismatic aura to him,” Moselle said. “I knew that if we brought him to this town, he would bring people together, become friends with everybody, know every single person on the street because wherever we go, he does that.” 

While shooting the film proved an exciting opportunity filled with meeting new people and working in a new environment, co-producer Tzenkova said that came with challenges of its own, including managing around 200 extras. She also acknowledged that the environment they worked in and the relationships she built after visiting the country for decades proved to be valuable.

“Everyone really put their best foot forward and got the swing of the spontaneity of (working on the film) very quickly,” Tzenkova said. “We were fortunate to have such a great crew that was really on board to do that.”

Harden, who offered wisdom to up-and-coming filmmakers and artists, said the most important thing is to ‘Just Do It,’ referencing the Nike slogan. 

“Don’t look for validation … Try to stay away from it because it will confuse you,” Harden said. “Listen to that inner voice. You know you can do it all… Don’t let your own brain hold you back.”

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