Interview: Sam de Jong on Being on the Move with “Goldie”

Goldie (Slick Woods) has just turned 18 when Sam de Jong’s energetic second feature begins, but she’s been living in an adult world for some time longer, a fact that’s on display for better and worse when you see her own the stage at the New Hope Community Center in the opening moments of the film named after her.

“Coming to you live in a music video soon,” she signs off her dance set with a mic drop, only to have to return moments later when her younger sister can’t find her rhythm on the drums during the talent showcase, hyping up the audience again. It’s just one way she looks out for her family in “Goldie,” in which you can’t imagine anywhere else than New York for the larger-than-life teen to make her home, though the trouble is that it’s become impossible to live there with her two sisters after their mother is arrested and Goldie will stop at nothing to make sure they aren’t out sleeping on the streets, all the while trying not to sacrifice her own dreams of stardom which she believes will start with a music video shoot she’s been invited to be a part of.

There seems to be hardship awaiting Goldie around every corner, but you wouldn’t know it from either the enthusiasm Woods brings to her indefatigable heroine or the fantastic elements that deJong builds into the film to express her flights of fancy, from animated extensions of Goldie’s screams of excitement of fits of anxiety to scenes of eluding authorities that play out like a game of Whack-a-Mole. As in any superhero origin story, Goldie is in search of a cape to wear in her adventures, coming in the form of a lush fur coat, and while she would believe the cloak has special powers, it is watching her come to realize the determination and ingenuity she had all along set her apart. With the brisk jaunt through the city now arriving in towns across the country after its premieres last year at the Berlin Film Festival and the Tribeca Film Festival, de Jong spoke about making his first film set across the Atlantic after his impressive debut “Prince,” working with the model-turned-actress Woods on her first performance and bringing the feeling of New York into the film.

How did this come about?

I was working on something about unsafe youth and then “Prince” happened and through “Prince,” I came to New York. I actually met a kid on the subway who shared his story with me, which was actually very similar to what I was working on, and then I pitched that to Vice, and they were really excited to develop something with me, so I thought, ”Wow, this is magical” and I’d wanted to work in the U.S. since going to Sundance, but I didn’t know how to do it. Getting here with a work visa is hard, but [the producers] were able to provide me with all the necessary means to do so, and very early on in the process, I met Slick through [our] casting agent, and from there, I think we all felt she would be an amazing lead actress, so we just went for it.

Did getting familiar with New York contribute to how you introduce audiences to this world onscreen?

Because I was here, just trying to get to know the city, I did travel a lot and meet a lot of people, always on the move. And Slick told me she was always on the move as a kid, so I felt that hustle to stay alive in New York City should be included in the film. I actually did a lot of research and met with several people to develop the story, but when I sat down with Slick, she just talked about what it meant for her to be displaced. At the time she was also building her career as a model, so I had to go out on an adventure on my own to craft a story, but I tried to keep her close, just hoping that she would end up playing the lead role and that ended up happening.

We also were very much inspired by shooting in the Bronx where it’s so rich and dense and if you pass through the streets there, every storefront there is blasting different music. It’s very Latin American and we wanted to evoke that feeling of being there [with the music] and at the same time have this score that reflects her inner world and her subjective space. We collaborated with Nathan Halpern on [score] and a great music supervisor that helped the sensitivity of the film at times.

Was this highly stylized from the start with elements like the animation or did that evolve as it went along?

There always were playful layers in the script that resonated with internet culture and that just developed into something more [visual] because I felt that in a way we’re watching her through her sister’s eyes and having those animations really helped frame the film through their subjective world, keeping the sisters alive in moments where they’re absent. For instance, she’s thinking about her sisters when she’s going to meet Jose, and when you hear him, and it’s like a little reminder that all she’s doing is trying to keep her sisters close.

Was there a particularly crazy day of shooting?

Every day was fairly crazy. The most memorable days we had was just where Slick had to deal with her past. For instance, when her [character’s] mom gets arrested, those are things she lived through in real life and going through those moments as an actress, not being an actress [until recently], were pretty profound for her and moving. I actually think Slick felt a huge connection to Jose [Rodriguez], who plays the boyfriend, from her mother being incarcerated in real life, so they’ve both lived a similar struggle. There was also a very interesting cross-pollination [with] phenomenal [longtime pro] actors like Marsha [Stephanie Blake] or Gbenga [Akinnagbe] who were there almost as role models, showing her what’s it means to be an actor or what it’s like to get up every morning and prepare for something. I also felt they fed off Slick, so seeing Slick trying to help her navigate those struggles [in character], but at the same time knowing that she’s the only one that can actually do it was interesting.

Was it any different making a film in the U.S.?

In a way, yeah, but I think the set language is very universal. I grew up and went to film school in Holland and I have my whole team of people that I used to work with and here I had to rebuild a whole family from scratch, which was really eye-opening and scary at times, but eventually, you learn from meeting new people and exploring other worlds. Having conversations with Slick now about the movie, I felt we both learned from each other and from the cinematographer and the costume designer and the sound designer, so it’s been wonderful in this sense.

What’s it like getting to the finish line?

It’s been four years, so it’s been a long journey and it was just super nice to see Slick and her friends [at the premiere] and seeing what it means to them, embracing the film. That was very beautiful in a city like New York and it seemed to resonate with local people, which was something we were striving for, so I’m really happy about that.

“Goldie” is now open in limited release, including Los Angeles at the Lumiere Music Hall, New York at the Roxy Cinema Tribeca, Chicago at the Gene Siskel Film Center and Seattle at the Grand Illusion Cinema. It is also available on demand on Vudu, iTunes, Fandango and Amazon.

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