Fusing ego with flashes of vulnerability, Eric K. Yue's portrait of self-confessed basketball star and 'God', Sire treads the line between surrealist comic performance and a genuine showcase of a star-in-the-making. Sire, with his Chris Brown-inspired peroxide buzz-cut and dead-pan interactions with his own reflection in the mirror should belie his arrogance but the sudden segue into a sincere tribute to the inspiration his late uncle has given him gives Sire's tall body.
Mainline Films, in partnership with Dazed, presents Tribute – a series of film portraits featuring contemporary youth. Here, director Eric K. Yue speaks to Mainline's AG Rojas about making the film.
Mainline: What was your first interaction with Sire? and what was your reaction to that first interaction?
Eric K. Yue: Well, I guess I'll preface how I ended up in Chicago. I have a friend who's from there and I wanted to get out of New York. He was doing a documentary following a high school basketball team and along the way he met a friend of a friend who was from Nigeria and was placed in the South side of Chicago for study abroad. I thought that was an interesting subject to follow, a perspective of America through a lens of a foreigner, but he stopped answering his texts. So my friend said there was someone he knew who was a charismatic kid and would be open to letting us film him. He played for a different high school team called Farragut which is the high school Kevin Garnett played for - and when I first met him he seemed kind of closed off and shy so I knew it was gonna take a little while for him to warm up.
Mainline: How much of it is him putting on a show, and how much of it is sincere? Each time I watch it for some reason, the moment when he's on the sidewalk with the balloons, there's a tiny bit of vulnerability or nerves.
Eric K. Yue: Thats a good question. I think a lot of it is a show. That's not to say he doesn't come from a sincere place, but he's someone who wants to be great so I think he views himself as a star already. I think at his age and especially in a social environment he definitely cares about how he is perceived. There's a scene I shot with him that's not in the cut because of technical reasons but I guess he caught the attention of some girls at the mall because I was following him around with a camera - and he told them 'I'm the top player in the state.' Not sure if that's true but it's kind of funny because he doesn't try to be humble when those situations arise.
He loves the camera, except he tries to play cool around one
Mainline: That leads into my next question - was it a deliberate choice not to show him interacting with other people or highlighting his friends and family? It definitely adds another element to his personality to see him almost talking to himself the whole time.
Eric K. Yue: I think the choice was because he was a lot more interesting when he is actually talking to himself, especially in the mirror.
Mainline: Did you manipulate that scene at all, or was it all him just going for it?
Eric K. Yue: He was just going for it. He loves Chris Brown, hence the hair.
Mainline: What did he think of your interest in his story? That's always something that surprises me when I shoot, people's reactions. They vary from "whatever, let's do this" to confusion, they can't believe anyone would want to explore their lives.
Eric K. Yue: He was really excited for it. I think at first he thought I was there to make a reel for scouts. Chicago is a goldmine for ball players so I think a lot of kids on the team are used to cameras around. Especially Sire. He loves the camera, except he tries to play cool around one.
Mainline: What happened when you weren't rolling? Was he different at all?
Eric K. Yue: He was usually on his computer.
Eric K. Yue: Yeah haha.
Eric K. Yue: I forgot that kids these days are always on twitter and facebook. He doesn't even have a cell phone, so he'll talk with people through Facebook chat.
Mainline: I love how committed he is to his persona then.
Eric K. Yue: I learned a lot about his family though. The first photo in the film is from his mom's prom and he was two, and so he's a mommas boy.
Mainline: Do you want to add anything else?
Eric K. Yue: Just if anyone's curious - the style of dancing is called bopping and it's pretty specific to Chicago's west side, and it's pretty dope.
Mainline: Is it a specific group of artists who make music for it, like sissy bounce, or is it any kind of music?
Eric K. Yue: In the piece are some local artists who make music to bop to. But I think everyone at the end of day just wants to bop to Chief Keef.
Mainline: Haha, seems about right. You need to do another piece on bopping then.
Eric K. Yue: You gotta check out Lil Kemo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=P2KHb-rPGUs. He's the bopping king.
Mainline: Watch Dazed put him on the cover of their next issue after this interview.
Eric K. Yue: Haha, Dazed put Chance the Rapper on.
Mainline: It's so weird how music is so temporary now. Its lifespan is the lifespan of a small dance subculture. Once people stop doing the dance, the track is dead.