Director Stefon Bristol Talks About His HBO Film “See You Yesterday”

See You Yesterday, a short film directed by Stefon Bristol, and written by both he and co-writer Fredica Bailey, is a time travel film with cultural relevance to urban Americans. Unfortunately, that relevance has to do with the disenfranchisement of black life, in an instant, by any police officer. 

As is the historic norm, said officers are allowed to get away with murder, while families and friends are left to mourn the shameful loss of potential that results in such deaths. The potential to grow, the potential to learn, the potential to lead, all smothered in a nanosecond. 

Recently, I spoke with co-writer and director Stefon Bristol about this award-winning offering.

The Shadow League: Your short film is a science fiction offering that is culturally relevant. How did it come about?

Stefon Bristol: When I was in the third year of NYU graduate film school we all have to do a thesis to graduate as a director. This was during the summer of 2014. At the time, a family member of mine was an alcoholic drunk. I was going to do a sci-fi movie where the little kid jumps back in time to stop his drunk grandfather from committing a heinous act of drunk driving that kills his best friend. But the problem was that summer, when I was writing that script, Mike Brown got shot by police officers and Eric Garner was murdered as well.

It also wasnt far from the George Zimmerman trial, where he was acquitted for murdering Trayvon Martin. With all that, it was a huge summer.  A very, very burning summer. And that led to my script. A professor of mine saw a scene of police brutality in that script that also dealt with time travel, and she said you cant use that one moment as a device in the script and then ignore it. Focus on that or take it out.

As angry as I was during that time, and like most of America at that time, I kept it. I found it helpful in that discussion, using sci-fi in a very socially appropriate manner. I discuss that, run with that, and try to make it into a feature.  Summer of 2015, my professor was saying, No, youre not ready to do a feature. So, I did this short film instead.

See You Yesterday Trailer

Two Brooklyn teenage prodigies, C.J. Walker and Sebastian Thomas – determined to outwit fate and role-play as God – build make-shift time machines to save CJ’s brother, Calvin, from being wrongfully killed by a police officer.

TSL: What are your favorite time travel movies?

SB: Honestly, Back to the Future.  It blew me away. I will watch Back to the Future on repeat, man!  With time travel, especially for black people, its like I dont know if we want to go back THAT far.

Me and my co-writer Fredrica Bailey would think of ideas like, Do you go back and save Dr. King or Malcolm X?’ Dealing with the type of money we have to make a first feature, I think we finally came to the idea to keep it contained.  So, we stuck to the idea we had for our short feature.

Another film that inspired me was Attack of the Block.  When I saw that film I said, I would love to make a movie like this!  That was refreshing. I was also very inspired by that movie because of Joe Cornish. Hes a very good at researching. I try to do that in film by exploring the different sciences surrounding time travel, focusing on police brutality. Joe Cornish was really into what the kids really look like when theyre on the block, how do they speak, what language did they have, and what we did with our feature. The feature version of this takes place in East Flatbush, Brooklyn. And weve never seen that before on film.

Every time you talk about Brooklyn, its always Williamsburg, Park Slope, and Bed Stuy, respectively.  Its a lot about hipsters and all of that, and thats not the Brooklyn I know.  Its so much more. The Caribbean people in East Flatbush, Flatbush, East New York, Canarsie, I would love to see them in film.

TSL: Where are you with making this a feature length offering?

SB: Were still in development. Some companies like it and are interested in it. My co-writer and I have a really strong draft of the script right now and thank god we have Spike Lee as a producer.

2017 BT British Urban Film Festival promo: “See You Yesterday” (Black Films Matter) Supported by BT, watch the British Urban Film Festival trailer for ‘See You Yesterday’, directed by Stefon Bristol. Watch this short plus 6 others as part of BUFF Black Films Matter (Afternoon Shorts) from the BT Tower on Friday 8 September (4.00pm-6.00pm). Follow @buffenterprises and @stefonbristol on Twitter for the very latest updates.

TSL: How did Spike Lee get involved with this project?

SB:  He came onboard, it was winter of 2016 and I was working on my first drafta couple days before Christmas. I got an email from Spike asking if we would like for him to be the producer for this project, and I was like No! He was like Well, why dont you think about it? I was like What do you mean think about it? Of course, we want you as the producer on this project!

Hes been amazing. Ive been in rooms with a lot of execs, Ive been in rooms with agents. With him, he read the scripts from front to back, every single draft. Hes a producer you want to have around. He will fight for you.

 Right now, were simply trying to get a deal made with the production company, still pitching, still running around. Knock on wood, we wanted to shoot it this summer.  We just need thoughts and prayers and a lot of good vibes coming our way.  One day it feels like things are moving, the next day it feels like nothings moving.  Anybody thats tried to put together a feature knows what Im talking about.

Starring Dante Crichlow and Eden Duncan-Smith, See You Yesterday was a finalist in the HBO Short Film Competition at American Black Film Festival, winner of the Marthas Vineyard African-American Film Festival and the Carl Lerner Award for a Film with Social Significance from NYU. 

Catch it now, streaming on HBO Go.and HBO Now.

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