Cleverly titled Cinequest opener Fresh Kills gets its name from a spot on Staten Island.
”Kills” is a Dutch word for a riverbed. Until it was closed in 2001, the real Fresh Kills was infamous in the Milpitas manner: it was where NYC’s 12,000 daily tons of garbage were dumped during the mid 20th century.
The Staten Island set drama is about a crime family, only one seen from the female side: director/star/wrtier/producer Jennifer Esposito plays the powerful mother of a pair of daughters. She and her kids are newly arrived to the island from Brooklyn. When the wind changes, the stink of the city wafts into their posh dining room. One daughter (Emily Bader) is being drawn into the family business and its tribal lifestyle; the other (Odessa A’zion) is trying to rebel.
Esposito’s evocative look at the Jordache Era in the outer boroughs is one of a kind. The lush mood has as much weight as the moments of cruel conflict. The lead role gives Esposito a chance to be both a tender mother and a ruthless enforcer. Fresh Kills has what the best of The Sopranos had.
Cinequest Director of Programming Mike Rabehl certifies Fresh Kills ‘Fresh.’
“Bottom line, I love this film. I don’t choose favorites, as you know, but I really love it a lot,” he says. “I saw it almost a year ago as a rough cut. I remember feeling this was something new to the genre…something we (or, at least I) had not seen before. Having talked to her a bit, I know this has taken her twenty years to get made, and the depth it shows in its characters and Esposito’s love of storytelling really shines.”
Jennifer Esposito was born in Brooklyn, mostly Italian, partially Albanian. Her best known role was in 2005’s Crash, a connect the dots drama that won Best Picture at the Oscars. Esposito played a plainclothes cop named Ria, feeling a spot of racial friction with her partner (Don Cheadle) during the course of the working day. She was one of the most authentic aspects of this problematic tag-team story.
Esposito played a cop again on TV’s Blue Bloods. She’s typecast sometimes–she called this something of a curse in an interview on The Faure Show. In real life, cops themselves have to be actors; they have to project strength. Detectives have to try to win a situation by being the best-dressed people in the room. Certainly, Esposito has both the old-world glamor and a lawman’s shrewdness, but her Mediterranean looks mostly resulted in offers for roles of girls on the side, wives, cops and criminals.
Esposito has strong facial features, including the kind of teeth and chin that made Kirk Douglas seem like a much larger man than he was. She has the aura of a person not to be trifled with, which made her not a first choice for casting directors looking for girls next door. Thus she was called too ethnic, too urban, too intense.
But lately she’s been doing comedy, co-starring on the semi-autobiographical Awkwafina is Nora From Queens. (The hyphenated talent Awkafina’s given name is Nora.) She plays the girlfriend of Awkafina’s father. Making her directorial debut at 50, Esposito is also a best selling author, who wrote about living with celiac disease; an auto-immune syndrome she helps fight with a gluten-free bakery she runs in New York’s East Village.
Once an actor of merit, she is now, clearly, a director of talent.