On a balmy morning in April, Nick Pinkerton was deep in the vaults of a New York video store, cataloguing alongside filmmakers Sean Price Williams and Alex Ross Perry. It’s not where you might expect to find Pinkerton and Williams soon before the Cannes world premiere of their film, The Sweet East, which Pinkerton wrote and Williams directed. But it was a quiet moment in a happy place for the two former employees of the East Village’s storied Kim’s Video & Music.

The Sweet East is the latest writing endeavor for Pinkerton, 42, who has developed a loyal following through a perhaps unlikely cottage industry: lovingly researched, digressive essays about movies; mordantly funny Twitter takedowns of cultural absurdities; and popular pursuits that include a Roxy Cinema secret screening series (with Williams), editing at Metrograph, and a zine, Bombast. (There’s also a Substack and a book or two.)

Nick Pinkerton has developed a loyal following through lovingly researched, digressive essays about movies (among other things).

The new movie—which stars Talia Ryder, Euphoria heartthrob Jacob Elordi, Simon Rex, and playwright Jeremy O. Harris, among others—is sure to arouse curiosity. Ryder plays a high-schooler, Lillian, who goes AWOL during a school trip to Washington. Lillian crosses paths with a provocative cross section of Americans and takes some unexpected turns of her own.

“The genesis of The Sweet East was the Trump election, and Sean texting me, ‘Let’s make a MAGA movie,’” Pinkerton tells me. “Meaning, not an agitprop piece, but trying to take the temperature of things.”

Williams makes his directorial debut after years in demand as a cinematographer, filming the likes of Robert Pattinson and Elisabeth Moss for the Safdie brothers and Perry. Pinkerton began writing The Sweet East while attending Sundance in 2017 as a full-time critic, in the bleak aftermath of Trump’s election.

“I was imagining myself as a young person at this moment, when every identity kit I can see on offer just sucks,” Pinkerton said. He cited the Bresson film The Devil, Probably and the “series of refusals” played out by its antihero. He also recalled hearing at Sundance about a Pollyanna petition to get Trump to try virtual reality and change his outlook.

Pinkerton, left, and The Sweet East director Sean Price Williams on the set of the film.

Recounting all this, Pinkerton kept up a steady cross-current of jokes and self-deprecation. He said he was fired from his first job in New York, at a Tasti D-Lite knockoff, after two shifts. (Problems sticking to a multi-page service script.) At one point, he referred to his essays generally as “12,000 words of maniacal blather about a movie nobody has ever heard of.”

The Cincinnati native brings that humor to screenwriting, along with his palpable fondness for the highways and byways of U.S. history and literature. You might notice D. W. Griffith and Edgar Allan Poe referenced in the new film. Ryder’s character joins a lineage of impressionable protagonists who hit the road and have a series of strange and unpredictable encounters.

The Sweet East brings Lillian’s journey to Cannes, where it screens in the prestigious Directors’ Fortnight showcase. Pinkerton sounded positively aglow about everyone involved with the film. As for himself: “I have no idea if I’ll be allowed in the building again.”

The Sweet East, written by Nick Pinkerton, premieres at the Cannes Film Festival, with a theatrical release to follow later this year

Nicolas Rapold is a New York–based writer and the former editor of Film Comment magazine