Tuesday, July 23, 2024

“Paradise,” directed by Max-Isaacson, lands on streaming platforms Friday.

Notable Cambridge filmmakers include Siân Heder (“Coda”), Rachel Morrison (the first Oscar-nominated female cinematographer, for “Mudbound”) and Ben Affleck (“Argo,” “The Town”) among the many. The list is forever expanding with talents looking to break out, including Max Isaacson, who was born in Boston but grew up in Cambridge. His directorial debut, the Caribbean Western “Paradise,” lands on streaming platforms Friday after an abbreviated run last week at AMC Boston Common.

The film, which Isaacson describes as an “anti-colonial Western, or a post-Western,” takes place in the fictional town of the title, where a wealthy white mayor (Tate Donovan, “Manchester by the Sea”) is at odds with the town’s Black sheriff (Bashir Salahuddin), who is murdered. The sheriff’s daughter, Ella (Patricia Allison), who’s quite handy with a six-shooter, sets out to find who did it and exact revenge. Flourishes of Sergio Leone are evident from the opening credits and music, though the film to me was more evocative of recent trouble-in-paradise offerings “Pacifiction” (2022) and “Infinity Pool” (2023) as well as the fantastic anti-colonial Marlon Brando-Gillo Pontecorvo project “Burn!” (1969).

Isaacson’s heritage played a role in the genesis of “Paradise”: His mother is Cuban born, and left the country early in the Fidel Castro regime. He also wanted to explore the themes of the West and Western expansion into territories occupied by other peoples. “The vast majority of Westerns and the history of the Western-American frontier are stories about white male violence and conquest. They’re about the taming of ‘wild lands and wild people.’ Obviously that’s a very screwed-up way of looking at things, wrongheaded and cruel, but that is the narrative we’re sold,” Isaacson said in an online interview.

Max Isaacson grew up in Cambridge, but now lives in Los Angeles. (Photo: Max-Isaacson)

“With ‘Paradise’ we wanted to examine a world that is the product of all that violence and conquest. And for us it became a story about a young woman of color looking at a gun-crazy world where established white power manipulates and hurts people without any regard for the consequences,” Isaacson said. “It’s also a story where she is simultaneously a product of that world, as she is a gunslinger, after all. It is impossible for generations to exist in and be raised in a world built by your oppressors without adopting some of their methods. Ella is as much a reaction against her oppressors as she is a product of them.”

Isaacson attended Buckingham, Browne & Nichols and later studied film at New York University. Along his way to the directorial chair, Isaacson did costume design for the techno band LCD Soundsystem – among the most Brooklyn, New York, of Brooklyn, New York, bands.

Yet Isaacson lives in Los Angeles. “I couldn’t hack the winters anymore,” he said of the East Coast. “I’m skinny and coldblooded. Also, and this is hard to admit, it’s a really lovely city. I like L.A. Don’t stone me to death.”

“Paradise” was shot in Hawaii, which Isaacson noted had a decent tax rebate of 25 percent that helped with his lo-fi vision. Massachusetts offers a 30 percent rebate, by comparison. On his returns to town Isaacson always (“a must!”) stops in for a burrito at Anna’s Taqueria and is happy to see Armando’s still serving up cheesy good pies – even while mourning the disappearance of businesses he treasured as a youth, including Cafe Aventura and WordsWorth in Harvard Square and Hollywood Express Video.

Isaacson said he became film-obsessed after seeing “Alien” (1979) at the age of 6 with his uncle. Films that influenced and shaped him along the way were the kitschy comedy-adventure actioner, “Big Trouble in Little China” (1986) and the David Lean classic “Lawrence of Arabia” (1962) that remains Isaacson’s all-time favorite.

Taking a cue from “Big Trouble,” Isaacson has an action-comedy script he hopes to steer into production as his next feature.

First he gets to see “Paradise” become part of the film universe, which Isaacson calls “surreal,” and welcome the birth of his first child. At the time of our exchange, Isaacson told me he was expecting within next 48 hours – “bonkers!” he called it – so this week should mark more than one happy turn for the ex-Cantabrigian.