Hallelujah has been one of the most talked about films in recent memory when it comes to the short film medium, and for good reason. Writer and director Victor Gabriel tells the story of Hallelujah, a young, bookish boy who speaks in facts and quotes while being taken care of by his uncles, two brothers in Compton who are very unlike the young man they’ve been tasked with taking care of. As the brothers decide what to do with Hallelujah, their lives are changed, forcing them to come to the decision of whether or not they will become the caretakers of the very strange but intelligent young man. The film, which has qualified for an Oscar after its Grand Prix win at this year’s HollyShorts Film Festival, has been a welcome addition to the pantheon of great short films, and is sure to have a great chance at even more success as people continue to get a look at its excellence.
Exploring ideas of getting your life together, of the traumas that come with violence and loss, of black masculinity and what it takes to take care of others, this film is tragic, but not graphic. Painful and powerful, but still with moments of levity. It’s a snapshot of life, with all its trials and tribulations, of gain and loss and what it means to come out of a life-changing event on the other side, and what to do once the dust settles.
Hallelujah, both the film and the character, explore the viewpoints of African-American men in modern society; how they’re viewed, how they’ve been taught to act, and how the emergence of a young like Hallelujah, who acts so unlike his uncles, but still has the perspective, through what he’s learned, to know what it can be like to be seen and treated like so many people, especially black men, are.
Much should be said about the performances too, as Bruce Lemon, Richard Nevels, Stephen Laroy Thomas and Mariah Aaliyah Pharms are all excellent throughout the film, really making this feel like the lives of these characters that we’re just watching from a distance.
It’s a raw and powerful film that works through ups and downs through humor and grief, showing us how we got to the point where this family is and a glimpse into where they go from here. Gabriel has put together an incredible film that has rightly caught the attention of so many, bringing his own unique take on the subject and putting it out into the world through his own lens.
As an added bonus into our look at this film, it’s an honor to have both Gabriel and producer Duran Jones available to talk about the process a bit, in their own words as part of our “5 Questions With” series. Big thanks to both Victor and Duran for taking the time to speak with us!
Q: Tell us more about your film. How did it come to be?
Victor Gabriel: Well logistically it was a proof of concept for a feature script I had already written, and the idea was to show the world my vision for the feature film. Emotionally it just came from me dealing with loss and grief and trauma as a black man, and wondering and asking myself “Will I be alright at the end of this?”. Which I believe is “Yes I will, we all will”.
Duran Jones: This film was actually birthed out of a feature script that Victor wrote called “The Incredible Heist of Hallelujah Jones.” As soon as I read that script I knew we had to find a way to get people to recognize his talent. The short film came from that idea.
Q: What was your budget?
VG: Like 22k I think. I don’t remember, I intentionally try to forget budget conversations after the movie’s done.
DJ: Our production budget was roughly $20k but by the time we factor in PR and film festival submissions; it will be significantly more than that.
Q: What was the biggest takeaway from making the film?
VG: That people responded the most to the thing inside me that I have been ashamed of. Something that has caused me to isolate and has caused people to leave me. And it’s my ability to feel and to make other people feel with me. And perhaps an ability to heal.
DJ: When you have great people around each other that believe in an idea, there is nothing that can not be accomplished. We just wanted to help Victor tell a great story and everything that has happened is nothing short of a blessing.
Q: What was the biggest challenge in making this film?
VG: Money and time.
DJ: There were quite a few challenges, but I would say the biggest was COVID. We shot this at the height of the pandemic and because of that we had zero time to rehearse with the cast and the cost of testing and PPE was tough on our small production. Each challenge just made us band closer together and we got something beautiful out of it.
Q: What is next for you?
DJ: We are currently throwing everything we have at the Academy Award nomination for the short. We are also working on getting the feature film made. Hopefully, we will have news on that soon.
VG: The feature film is next and I’m also developing projects with other production companies as well.