Brandon (Jahking Guillory) is a 15-year-old Bay Area kid without much going for him in life. He’s poor, short, unathletic, and (unsurprisingly) severely lacking in confidence. One day, he scrapes together all of his money and self-worth and invests it all in a black-and-red vintage pair of Air Jordans, but the accompanying morale boost is short lived. After a neighborhood bully named Flaco (Kofi Siriboe) boosts the sneakers right off his feet—and uploads the humiliating ordeal to YouTube for ancillary debasement—Brandon embarks on an odyssey through the streets of Oakland to find his Jordans and reclaim his self-respect.

AFI alum Justin Tipping says that his debut feature was highly influenced by Italian neorealism of the 1940s, particularly the work of Vittorio De Sica. “They were telling stories about people on the fringes of society and outcasts and the lower working class, really intimate subjects,” he told Filmmaker recently. “In terms of deciding what story to tell, The Bicycle Thief got me thinking how much this one object can mean to someone, how it can have all this emotional weight.” Emotional weight seems to be the operative phrase. When The A.V. Club’s Jesse Hassenger saw the film when it premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival back in April, he was more than a little brought down by its unrelenting solemnity, saying “Kicks proves there’s no reason a small-scale story of poverty can’t be just as massively depressing as something more sweeping in scope.”


Kicks will arrive in theaters on September 9.