Malik Vitthal's directorial debut "Imperial Dreams" is an excellent movie that has been criminally overlooked by critics and audiences alike here in Park City. Candid and rooted in reality, the film tells the story of Bambi (John Boyega), an ex-con recently released from prison and thrown back into his dangerous hometown of Watts, Los Angeles. Responsible for a child (a little boy name Day played by Ethan and Justin Coach), Bambi is attempting to lead a better, cleaner life—one without drug deals and shoot-outs. Playing straight has rarely seemed so hard, though. The mother of Bambi's child is in prison (Keke Palmer), his mom is a raging alcoholic and his vindictive uncle (Glenn Plummer) will only help him out if he agrees to rejoin the gang that got him locked up 28 months ago.
It would appear our empathetic protagonist is in a dire situation, living out of his unworkable car with his 4-year-old son. However, hope lies in Bambi's writing—a talent he developed while imprisoned, hundreds of miles away from home. His musings on the strenuous life of a criminal, which are occasionally read aloud to Day or narrated by Boyega, are illuminating and heartbreaking. Through these characters Vitthal paints a harrowing picture of a life in which the only pertinent question is whether you’ll be killed before you’re incarcerated, or vice-versa. Like the cyclical cycle of violence and poverty, "Imperial Dreams" mercilessly envelops you in its narrative and refuses to let you go until you've been moved. Every gunshot, injustice and tragedy hits emotional chords.
That's not to say that "Imperial Dreams" covers material that hasn't been explored in the movies. John Singleton's masterful "Boyz N the Hood" examined the trials and tribulations of young men in Inglewood back in 1991. But it has been over 20 years since that poignant film and other early '90s inner-city dramas unveiled their horrors. By showing the psychological and socioeconomic hardships that have yet to subside, "Imperial Dreams" suggests that not much has changed. Like Singleton, Vitthal is speaking to us through art, profoundly and lucidly. We've yet to fully listen.