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May 14, 2006

Date Number One

I caught the world premiere of Sujewa Ekanayake's latest film, Date Number One, aptly described as a comedy about several first dates. Ekanayake's lo-fi directorial style and the film's conversational tone combine to depict the dating scene around a prominent Kensington Row bookshop where many of the key scenes were filmed. The twentysomethings and occasional thirtysomethings looking for romance recall Richard Linklater's philosopher slackers and Jim Jarmusch's minimalist attention to conversation, particularly in Jarmusch's underrated Night on Earth. Date Number One focuses on five different first dates, including a ninja (played with deadpan relish by Government Issue bandmember John Stabb Schroeder) rather unsuccessfully looking for love, a woman who punctuates everything she says with air quotes, and a woman hoping to arrange a "first date" matching herself, her ex-girlfriend, and her current boyfriend.

While some of the film's dating scenarios might appear cliched, Date Number One's strength is its attention to the local lingo of Washington, DC, not the lingo of the Hill, but the locals who live and work around the city, many of them--at least in Date's slightly off-kilter world--in the arts and culture fields. When characters first meet, the first question is invariably "What do you do?" followed by an apologetic "Not that you have to do anything." It's a quiet commentary on the ambition that shapes DC culture and the characters' uneasy relationship to it. Other characters refer to local bands and bars, the kinds of places that give the District a character that is often overlooked on the Hill and in the city's other tourist haunts.

Like the characters in Jarmusch's Coffee and Cigarettes who reflect on concepts of celebrity and fame, Date Number One's twentysomethings find themselves returning to certain questions, in Date's case the potential relationship between quantum mechanics and Buddhism, with varying degrees of seriousness and authority. The conversations provide some degree of unity between the various episodes, but more importantly, the conversations seem to suggest the way in which ideas or concepts can weave their way through a community of artists and readers who spend a lot of time in bookstores and coffeehouses. An overheard snippet of conversation might be picked up by someone else, and the questions about Buddhism and quantum mechanics take an unexpected direction.

Finally, I think Sujewa Ekanayake's Date Number One offers an image of urban culture that might be understood as the anti-Crash depiction of life in the city. Instead of a city or community marked by distrust and hostility between racial and ethnic groups, Sujewa's film depicts a comfortably multi-ethnic community, recalling for me the "sidewalk ballet" described by Jane Jacobs in her wonderful book, The Death and LIfe of Great American Cities, rather than the sidewalk mosh pit imagined by Haggis. I don't mean to suggest that there aren't hostile encounters like the ones imagined in Crash, but Date Number One offers a notion of "contact" that is far more subtle, at least in my experience on the sidewalks and in the bookshops and coffeehouses of the cities where I've lived.

If I have made Ekanayake's film sound overly serious, it's unintentional. In fact, Date Number One is quite funny and treats the dating life of DC twentysomethings with a light touch, and many of the actors show good comic timing (particularly the ninja-playing Schroder, Jennifer Blakemore from "A Romantic Dinner for 3" and Jewel Greenberg from "The Superdelicious French Lesson"). But it's also a subtle, thoughtful film, which is what I will take away from it. Ekanayake is currently scheduling tour dates for the film, and if the film reaches your city, I'd happily recommend it.

Update: Here's Sujewa's report on the opening night screenings.

Posted by chuck at May 14, 2006 3:58 PM

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Ooh, this sounds exactly like the kind of movie I'd love. Sigh. To live in a city that attracts movie premieres ... or even just good movies in some instances.

Posted by: profgrrrrl at May 14, 2006 7:15 PM

Wow, thanks for the kind words Chuck. & thanks a lot for coming to the show!

Profgrrrl, the flick will be available (on the DIY self-distro "limited" basis :) throught my website http://www.wilddiner.com/ starting later this month ($12 I think). & it is entirely possible the flick will play in your city at some point soon.

- Sujewa

Posted by: Sujewa Ekanayake at May 14, 2006 8:11 PM

And my city (Pittsburgh), I hope!

Posted by: A. Horbal at May 14, 2006 10:33 PM

Thanks for the invite, Sujewa. I'll miss my access to film premieres when I move away from DC. Maybe I'll have to start an indie film fest in Fayetteville to keep me engaged.

Posted by: Chuck at May 14, 2006 10:38 PM

No problem Chuck. If you do the F-ville festival, The Sujewa will come w/ Date Number One.

- Sujewa

Posted by: Sujewa Ekanayake at May 16, 2006 4:32 PM

And of course with the magic of DVD, I can have film "premieres" in my living room. I do have a cool idea for a film fest in F'ville that I'm working on.

Posted by: Chuck at May 16, 2006 4:48 PM

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