This is a belated congratulations to Barry Jenkins for winning this year’s Best Picture for Moonlight, in most dramatic fashion. Three years ago I took a long look at the short films and commercial work he had produced up to that point, as I had wondered what had happened to him in the six years since he had made his first feature Medicine for Melancholy. I was struck by the clarity of vision in that film and wondered to what extent his works-for-hire bore that vision as well. I wondered what it would mean if he never made another feature: could this body of work – one feature, several shorts, even a commercial for Facebook – stand on its own?
That question has now been rendered moot as far as Jenkins is concerned, but remains valid to ask in its own right. What kind of body of work – or works within that body – are worth our attention? How much work should be considered in telling the story of a filmmaking career? Especially for those who may never make a feature film? Who are the greatest filmmakers who never made a feature, and how are their legacies considered differently from those who have?