I had to check the running time of Khalik Allah’s documentary, IWOW: I Walk On Water, twice. Twice. Three hours, 19 minutes. Really? This duration - the commitment Allah asks his audience to make - demands a change of mindset. This mesmerising and meditative film demands a willing investment of time and, on occasion, patience.
In IWOW, Allah focuses his lens on his long time muse Frenchie, a 60-something schizophrenic, homeless Haitian man. Meanwhile, the director also turns the camera on himself.
In intimate scenes, Allah documents his romantic relationship and explores universal themes of spirituality and mortality. Meanwhile, he gathers the thoughts of a series of confidants including Fab 5 Freddy, members of the Wu-Tang Clan and, in deeply moving conversations, his own mother.
Allah blends these intimate interviews and poetic musings with atmospheric handheld footage - mainly filmed on the streets of Harlem, New York. The result is a deeply immersive journey, a stunning combination of sights and sounds, beautiful cinematography and a powerful score.
The documentary draws us in with a fascinating conversation here and a gorgeously lit shot there. Allah’s expertise and experience as a New York-based photographer is clear throughout. IWOW is a stunning portrait of humanity.
Allah, who made his documentary debut with his 2015 film, Field Niggas, believes that, over time, his objective has not changed. “It’s always been to keep it real with myself; to stay true to my vision and to have the courage to express it cinematically," he explains. "IWOW is a sort of first-person documentary poem; a statement of my artistic integrity and my uncompromising dedication to the streets.”
This unwillingness to compromise is clear from IWOW's structure to its hefty running time. I have to admit, I could sense my attention starting to waver on a few occasions (perhaps a result of watching this film at home - with all that venue's pesky distractions). However, Allah soon drew me back in with a startling close up or a burst of invigorating music.
Overall, IWOW more than rewards your commitment. The cumulative effect of Allah’s film is incredibly impressive. With time and patience, this powerful cinematic experience reveals much about subjects often left unexplored and people often left unseen.