Admittedly, it may be a little too soon to call a film only released last year a hidden gem as it hasn’t had long to find its audience. But given the slow response time to Khalik Allah’s work overall, now picking up thanks to his work on recent music videos for Solange and Nas, it still seems appropriate even if any of Allah’s works could appear in its place.
I Walk on Water is certainly the photographer and filmmaker’s most ambitious project to date, if the running time of almost three and a half hours doesn’t make that obvious already. Taking the experimental form that he has made himself known for in his films Field N*ggas and Black Mother and intensely expanding it, Allah creates an opus here that speaks to almost every facet of his personal life, using a non-sync soundtrack to allow conversations to be heard over images he has captured that fit best. Allah’s spiritual monologues and dialogues narrating over his social-realist street photography is impactful in one-minute exposures, but given that he allows 200 minutes here the build-up of these revelations becomes almost Earth-shattering.
Given his poetic style and personal focus, the only agreeable comparison point for such a film has to be Jonas Mekas’ underground documentary As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty (2000), but Allah’s merging of the poetic/spiritual and brutality of everyday life is what really makes him stand apart from most any other living artist. His use of street and shop lights, his tendency to almost always shoot at night and his careful choice of subject all make his work and this film become all the more interesting, as the celluloid he shoots on seems to struggle to cough up an image from the darkness of the New York City streets and the people who speak throughout the film all add their own massively varied philosophies to the narration which, again, make this already mammoth work feel even bigger than it is.
On a visual level, it is one of the best photographers alive flexing his muscles for a well deserved victory lap and producing some of his finest work along the way, but as a whole, I Walk on Water is a completely inimitable work – a dazzling odyssey through spirituality and philosophy that spans much of the world but never loses its truly personal touch at any point. Undoubtedly, the film isn’t for everyone, but it is certainly worth looking into for those who are able to see it and experience it as it does reflect unique ideas that will at the very least spark plenty of thought in response.
IWOW: I Walk on Water is distributed by Dogwoof and is now available on demand. Watch the trailer on YouTube below: