Credit: Kevin Jerome Everson/Trilobite Arts DAC/Picture Palace Pictures
by Andrew Reichel Featured Film

Marbled Golden Eyes — Kevin Jerome Everson [Cinéma du Réel ’24 Review]

April 3, 2024

Kevin Jerome Everson sprays out films like a machine gunner, but he’s got a sniper’s aim. Marbled Golden Eyes, his latest documentary portrait about an everyday African American, is of the zoologist Maya Perry, who currently works with amphibians such as the Puerto Rican crested toad at the Detroit Zoo after a 30-year career. Her words on the soundtrack neatly provide the story of her career path — she didn’t like chemistry and became a zoologist rather than a veterinarian; she currently works with amphibians because she’s gotten older and it’s easier to deal with slower-moving species — and daily quirks, such as how she feeds the animals and which ones draw the biggest crowds. One could say she takes center stage, but the camera generally doesn’t see the need to focus on her. Everson’s use of black-and-white and a handheld camera with a long lens means that Perry and her workspace are turned into a blur of reflections produced by glass tanks filled with inky water, and the pure glow of office lights shining down from above. We get a better look at her glasses and her gloved hands than her face: she’s observing and working, doing the behind-the-scenes, day-by-day operations to help the animals and, we learn, restoring the crested toads to the wild by the tens of thousands.

The movie bookends itself with people enjoying the sight of silly-looking giraffes in the open air: the fun side of going to the zoo, while workers like Perry do their jobs in the shadows to keep the less cinematic animals around. (The Puerto Rican crested toad’s tadpoles are just barely visible, looking more like dirt on the tank’s walls than anything dynamic, and the adults and their striking eyes that inspired the title are nowhere to be seen.) When she states matter-of-factly that her favorite animals are whichever ones she’s currently working with, it’s a small thesis statement on Everson’s consistent commitment to showing African American professionals of all stripes locking into the groove of performing a job well done. A more conventionally shot documentary about Perry would have made her small everyday heroisms more immediately comprehensible, but Everson’s own eyes are more inclined to hunt for the obscurities that make the work exciting for being a little more incomprehensible to us. Most of us will never see a Puerto Rican crested toad (or know it if we have), but isn’t it nice to know they’re around?

Published as part of Cinéma du Réel 2024.