PARK CITY (Jan. 23, 2022) — Pensacola native Carey Williams premiered his feature film “Emergency” at the opening night of this year’s Sundance Film Festival. His short film of the same name debuted in Park City in 2018, and this compelling and well-crafted expanded version from Amazon Studios opened the virtual fest.
“Emergency” finds two Black roommates pondering whether to call the police when they find a passed-out white woman on the floor of their on-campus house. Best friends Sean (RJ Cyler) and Kunle (Donald Elise Watkins), who have different ideas about everything from tonight’s party line-up to post-graduate plans, disagree about the implications of this urgent situation, and are forced to make decisions about how to proceed along with their roommate Carlos (Sebastian Chacon). Their outstanding performances lead the audience through a tense and complicated night told through a tight 104 minutes.
“It’s really a love story about two friends whose friendship is challenged because they have different world views,” said Williams, who attended film school at Florida State University - and donned his Buccaneers cap for a festival press conference Sunday. “And those different world views will reveal a deeper commentary about what it means to be a young Black man in this country.”
Written by K.D. Dávila, who describes “Emergency” as a comedy-thriller, the feature is powerful, thoughtful and perfectly-paced. It lasts just long enough to put the audience on edge while building a deep empathy for its characters. Williams, Dávila and their supremely talented young cast make that difficult balance feel effortless, and go the extra mile to make a timely commentary into a meaningful and moving film-going experience with layered characters.
“It’s really rare for us as a programming team to be able to see this short we’re really excited about, but then to be able to watch it evolve and turn into a fully-realized feature-length version,” Senior Programmer Charlie Sextro said of the “incredibly distinctive but also entertaining update on the one-wild-night genre.”
Despite the nerve-wracking plot and terrifying stakes for these young men, “Emergency” feels as urgent as its title suggests, but is never melodramatic. “It’s not about the police,” Chacon said. "It’s about fear, it’s about that feeling."
Watkins especially demonstrates his character’s conflicting emotions, what he described as the “loss of innocence as a person of color.” His character is the epitome of the desire to help someone else with the knowledge that it could almost certainly damage his own future.
“I’ve been there before. We’ve all walked through it. It’s a blessing to be able to make it through it,” said Cyler, who grew up in Jacksonville. Telling this story as an actor “was like therapy. It definitely gave me an outlet, in a way."
Williams opened the screening by saying, "We hope we’ve put together a cinematic experience that will challenge you, surprise you, disturb you and delight you." He accomplishes that and more with “Emergency,” in theaters May 20 and streaming on Amazon Prime Video May 27.