In the presence of summer fucking mason
Capturing golden hour with filmmaker summer mason
It’s my first time being filmed and my hands won’t stop shaking.
summer mason and I walk through Mountain View Cemetery during golden hour as we shoot scenes for their next project, Gemini. They gently instruct me to walk away from the camera, to look back, to practice reflection. summer tells me it’s okay to smile and I realize, if not for their divine warmth, I would shy away from the process.
I’m playing a maternal figure, which is not unfamiliar territory for them. “I have always tried to confront my relationship with my parents in every one of my films,” they tell me a few weeks later, as we sit during another golden hour at Lake Merritt. “Someone had brought that up with me, and I’m like, am I one of those fucking people, with mommy and daddy issues embedded in my work?”
I’ve known summer since our days as undergrads in the film department at UC Berkeley; we worked together at the Pacific Film Archive and our boss would frequently tell us to stop talking.
I’ve been continually enraptured by the ecstatic way they capture their performers. Their work is full of moving portraits, with their subjects becoming conduits of emotion. Now that I’m one of them, I realize it comes from nuanced approach to the human form—developed through keen observation. “I’m way more interested in people watching at museums than watching the art. I want to hear the questions and conversations people are having about the art.”
So where does their work begin? “I have to revisit a lot of my past,” summer explains, “and because I don’t remember it in full, I think I allow myself to create a past that I want to remember. And it’s not to say that I falsify anything, or anything really changes. I just make it more of a vivid dreamspace to participate in. So past shit that’s happened to me, past experiences, conversations, smells, anything.”
summer’s art does reproduce intimate dreamspaces. It’s a rhetoric of stillness and movement, newness and familiar, the choreographed and the organic. Take their recent project, Copper. Right before filming began, their lead dancer dropped out, with Minkah Taharkah jumping in as a replacement. They only spoke for about ten minutes prior to shooting, and as soon as the cameras rolled they were left speechless from Minkah’s sensitive and powerful movements. It’s one of summer’s favorite moments on set, and their face lights up as they recount it.
“When I force it, and try to make myself feel something or try to make myself feel a particular pain I once felt, or an anxiety, or to revisit a lot of my past trauma, it doesn’t work.” Instead, summer prefers to “just allow myself to feel whatever I’m feeling in that moment.”
summer pauses for a moment, “You know, fuck it, daydreaming, I’m describing daydreaming.”
They often work within the genre of the essay film, focusing their stories through thematic use of color, choreography, and senses, rather than linear plots. In Copper, summer tells a story through physical movement across natural and manufactured landscapes. In a particularly compelling moment, they intersperse flashes of red with overlays of images. The sharp editing creates visual pacing that becomes meditative, with colors bouncing across the screen. It speaks to summer’s ever progressing technical depth.
“I love colorful shit,” they tell me. “I think that seeing how each new film I’m using so much process to color and how that color evolves and what emotions are attached to the colors. There’s this whole journey to them. Like they’re all one series.”
The patch of grass we’re sitting on empties around us as the cold starts creeping in. Our conversation flows from their morning routine of listening to Drake songs to advice to their younger self (“We did it bitch”) to the experiential process of viewing art.
summer also hits at the responsibilities of being a filmmaker. “Find that balance between, and this is specifically for young Black filmmakers, but find that balance between an academic argument in the film and also your pure creativity,” summer advises while discussing Arthur Jafa’s film Love is the Message, the message is Death. “I feel like a lot of the time I’m constantly trying to be as inclusive at the same time— but it sometimes takes away from my experiences. So figure out a way to make space for that narrative but without the motive of triggering anybody.”
Later, summer sends stills of our shoot. In the frame, the light hits me as I face the sun. I almost don’t recognize myself.—Ali Giordani