Artistic creation is like a chain reaction; it is inspired by something that came before it and in turn it will inspire something in the future. In Richard Raymond’s short A Million Eyes, teenage photographer Leroy (Elijah M. Cooper) is in the middle of that chain reaction. He finds inspiration in the most unlikely of places: from his neighbour, Fern (Joe Morton), whom he hardly knows, to the artist Pyro (Shareef Salahuddin), his cellmate during his brief stint in prison. Leroy’s love of photography then becomes a source of inspiration for his mother, Amber (Katie Lowes), who embarks on a turbulent road to recovery from alcoholism.
Although still only a young teen, Leroy has had to grow up fast due to his mother’s addiction and the absence of his father, whose military portrait sits proudly on a shelf in memoriam. However, his love of photography brings out his childlike curiosity. He explores and captures dilapidated buildings with his busted-up camera and spends time at the back of a bookstore poring over photography books. Surrounding himself in photographs is the closest Leroy will get to having the ‘million eyes’ that he so wishes he had, allowing him to see as much of the world as possible.
Cooper shines in his debut film role, giving a compelling performance as shy Leroy whose passion for his craft is incredibly endearing. His opening narration is moving, and it complements the film’s personal and poetic screenplay. Morton’s Fern is a caring mentor who takes Leroy under his wing and helps feed his creativity and develop his photography skills, all while encouraging him to come out of his shell. As they spend more time together, Leroy becomes increasingly confident both in his photography and in himself, which highlights the importance of nurturing young talent.
The film possesses a mythological element in the form of Pyro and his preoccupation with the Greek Muses of creativity, which ends up inspiring Leroy. It’s unexpected but effective, as it adds a layer of fantasy to the realism of Leroy’s story. This almost otherworldly narrative is supported by the film’s ambient score; its mix of soft piano melodies and synths gives the film an ethereal quality.
A Million Eyes captures the potency of creativity and its ability to transform lives, particularly those of young people who have little else to turn to. It is beautifully crafted and has most definitely found a star in its young lead Elijah M. Cooper.
‘A Million Eyes’ is being screened as part of the International Shorts Programme at Raindance Film Festival on Friday 27th September
by Holly Weaver
Holly Weaver is currently studying French and Spanish at the University of Leeds, and has spent her year abroad studying film in Montréal. She is enraptured by pre-1960s cinema and some of her favourite films include Singin’ in the Rain, City Lights and The Crime of Monsieur Lange. You can find her tweeting and letterboxd’ing at @drivermiller.