We’re already claiming that one of the most moving and most powerful films of Sundance 2023, A Thousand and One, will be one of the best films this year…and it’s only January.
The film, directed by A.V. Rockwell in her feature debut, stars Teyana Taylor, Will Catlett, Josiah Cross, Aven Courtney and Aaron Kingsley Adetola. It focuses on Inez, played by Taylor, as she has one last thing to do before she’s on the straight and narrow–kidnapping 6-year-old Terry from the foster system. A Thousand and One shows the mother and son duo (Cross plays an elder Terry in his teens) as they try to reclaim their sense of “home, identity and stability” as Harlem is changing right in front of them.
Rockwell, who garnered critical acclaim for her short film Feathers, had many personal connections to the subject matter that she tackled here.
“I think growing up in New York and seeing the city change was tough to reconcile,” Rockwell said to the audience following the film’s premiere at The Ray in Park City. “And even watching it again right now, I’m reminded of how hard it is to overcome generational cycles. Families like Inez, Terry and Lucky’s, they have to fight so hard to overcome what the generation before them had to go through. So many new obstacles like gentrification, it’s just so devastating and that’s why this was so urgent for me. And for the Black moms and matriarchs like my mom, how hard they had to fight, I thank them. I feel like society and even within our own community, especially inner-city Black women are so invisible and so misunderstood, it was just so important that I tell this story as best as I could and try to be a voice for them and hopefully let people into their lives a little bit and hopefully understand them a lot better and celebrate them.”
The writer-director says they saw hundreds and hundreds of women to play Inez before landing with Taylor, who she says “was kind of in my face the entire time.”
“As I wrote the story, I really wanted something that was truthful to the city and the experience of the people as I knew them,” she explained. “ I probably would have street cast the whole thing if could, but COVID made that complicated, and honestly, I think the movie benefitted from taking a little bit of everything — the people that have done this and are super seasoned and people that were jumping into this process for the first time.”
She continued, “I think I needed to go through that process to make sure I was finding the right people and to feel like none of this [was] performative. I’m so proud of all of them and so grateful to all of them.”
Like Rockwell, Taylor, who is Harlem-bred herself, connected to not only to the story but Rockwell’s passion.
The multihyphenate explained, “This was such a special project to me, how passionate she was, how beautifully the script was written on top of the fact that Inez was from Harlem, I’m from Harlem– just reading it, I knew I wanted to be a part of it. I got on my self-tape, I took my weave off, I took my makeup off, I was like ‘This is my Mo’Nique moment…this is my Precious moment.’ [laughs] I was ready to fight for it. I was six months post-partum during this project and just dealing with life and I put it all into Inez.”
“Some things come to you and it is just a dream to do,” said Catlett. “A.V. put the spirit of Lucky on the page and I just had to connect to that.”
Cross tributed Rockwell stating, “You are brilliant, you’re genius, you are a Black queen. I’ve lived my whole life and I’m a cinephile– and I saw my and mama up there [on the screen]. I love movies…and I haven’t seen that in my life. I’m getting chills just even talking right now. We need that. It’s hard to make movies, we had a crazy shoot–but for this to be your first movie..stop playing with ‘em [laughs].”
A Thousand and One premiered Jan. 22 at the Sundance Film Festival and will be in theaters later this year via Focus Features.