The history of American independent cinema is speckled with isolated masterpieces, one-man movements, and temporary loose alliances, many with their roots in the streets of New York. The city has a record of inspiring first features modest in scope but rich in sympathy—from Little Fugitive to Gimme the Loot, Adam Leon’s debut feature. Gimme the Loot follows two teenage graffiti artists (Tashiana Washington and Ty Hickson) as they scrounge up funds to make the tag of their careers—a goal that’s ultimately eclipsed in importance by the pair’s banter and prickly camaraderie, the feel of summer in the city, and the film’s view of youth.
Many screen depictions of urban life would have us believe that truth is synonymous with grit. Though Gimme the Loot is full of delinquency, trash talk, petty crime, and exploitation, they are, by the film’s reckoning, simply facts of life; the truth must be earned. And it is earned, moment by moment, by Leon’s fastidious, compassionate eye for behavior: the proud, tough-skinned girl ashamed at losing her cool. The bored drug dealer who just wants to talk. The inexperienced teenager grinning with sheepish pride after scoring a kiss with an attractive, slightly older woman. The two best friends who can’t manage to confess their feelings for one another except in a language of insults, apologies, gestures, and looks. When the next American new wave rolls around, it’ll be thanks to moments like these, and movies like Gimme the Loot.