Film editor has another successful collaboration with director Barry Jenkins

Imagine four friends who met at film school attending the Academy Awards years later, all nominated for the same film — and then it wins best picture.

This is precisely what happened to 1999 Jackson High School graduate Nat Sanders.

While attending film school at Florida State University in Tallahassee, Sanders befriended Barry Jenkins, who went on to write and direct "Moonlight," the critically acclaimed indie film that won the 2017 Academy Award for best picture. Sanders and another schoolmate, Joi McMillon, shared a best-editing nomination for their work on Jenkins' film. Another Florida State friend, James Laxton, was nominated for his "Moonlight" cinematography.

For Jenkins' latest film, "If Beale Street Could Talk," an African-American family story based on James Baldwin's novel, the writer-director again used Sanders and McMillon as editors and Laxton as cinematographer. While "Beale Street" hasn't been as widely nominated as "Moonlight" during this award season, it has been widely praised, collecting a 95 percent fresh rating on

"It's so surreal and special to see my friend and classmate, going back almost 20 years now, thriving so much and having that platform and seeing everyone recognize the talent we saw all along," Sanders, 38, said Wednesday, phoning while en route to work in Los Angeles.

Critics have agreed that "If Beale Street Could Talk," which blends romance and family love with harsh racial tension and sadness, is a gorgeously visual experience. "Barry is a big romantic," Sanders said. "He's always had a style that straddles the line of being lush and romantic and artful on one side, and social realism and unafraid of harsh truths on the other.


"We haven't had many voices telling three-dimensional stories where you get to see such a full view of black life," Sanders said. "It's not just about hardship. That's a part of it, but there's also love and laughter all mixed together. That's one of the things entertainment can do — sway hearts and minds and show people the humanity of all walks of life."

Editing "Beale Street" was a nine-month process. "Fairly quickly, my partner Joi and I got the film cut together, and the nuances of the performances came together pretty quickly," he said. "But it's the kind of film where, especially in the middle, the scenes can go in almost any order so we did a ton of experimenting, making sure we were telling the story in the absolute best way. It was like putting a puzzle together."

While no longer playing locally, "Beale Street" has an estimated March release date for release on DVD and digital streaming services. Canton's Palace Theatre has tried unsuccessfully to book the film.

These days, Sanders is busy editing "Just Mercy," a feature film based on the true story of civil rights defense attorney Bryan Stevenson, played by Michael B. Jordan, as he fights to free an man condemned to death row. The film, which also features Brie Larson and Jamie Foxx, is the third one Sanders has edited for director-writer Destin Daniel Cretton, following "The Glass Castle" (2017) and "Short Term 12" (2013). All three films star actress Larson, who Sanders describes as "a really sweet and authentic person, and not very Hollywood."

"It's really powerful and we're really, really excited about it," Sanders said about "Just Mercy." "We're at the five-month mark now (in editing) and getting ready to show it to the producers for the first time now."

Next planned for Sanders is editing Jenkins' next project, an 11-episode series for Amazon, "The Underground Railroad," based on a novel by Colson Whitehead. "It's historical fiction about slavery but with a different lens than I've ever seen on it before," Sanders said. "There's also magical realism within the story — a real underground train that abolitionists have built. It's heavy, it's a thriller, it's going to be incredible."

The current film-awards season has been less intense for "Beale Street" than it was for the much-buzzed-about "Moonlight" just two years ago. As Sanders found out first-hand in 2017, "There's an (awards-related) event every single night for about a month and a half. The ceremonies are supposed to be fun but they're pretty boring and dry."

Unforgettably, Sanders was backstage at the the Academy Awards when Warren Beatty mistakenly announced "La La Land" as the best-picture winner, which was awkwardly corrected to be "Moonlight." At this point, Sanders made his way onto the victory stage along with Jenkins, the "Moonlight" cast and crew and other entourage. "We were in a daze," he recalled. "We were at the Vanity Fair party afterward, still trying to figure out what happened." (Just the day before, Sanders and McMillan had won the Independent Spirit Award for editing "Moonlight.")

In October, Sanders married Hillary Hodsdon, an entertainment lawyer. "She's a smartie. She went to Georgetown Law," he said. "My parents (John and Anne Sanders) definitely think I've punched above my weight class."