I have been away from the blog for a few weeks. Time flies...In the midst of working on the film I have become partner in a new media company, 3to1 Studios, here in Chicago, while trying to maintain my duties as a part time staff member of the Jazz Institute of Chicago and doing programming for the ICE Theaters Black World Cinema program. Is this crazy? Well a brother gotta eat, cause it's hard out here for an independent filmmaker..
Sometimes it all gets to be too much. So one day I took off and disappered to the darkness of a movie theater. I saw Tsotsi and V is for Vendetta. Both wonderful films in my opinion. V asks some serious questions of us. Questions that are not really so hard in light of our history as a revolutionary country who fought for independence against the British. V was an elegant examination on the nature of what we percieve as "terror." Bottomline to me is simple. All war is terror. If you hit me and I cut you, who am I to claim you are violent. All I can say is I defended myself. Now the levels and degrees of my self defense is dependent upon the kind of human being I am.
Add ideology. Fred Hampton said when I was 16, "You can kill the freedom fighter, but you can't kill freedom fighting." It is the idea that is the thing. The idea trumps everytime. Coming out of the historical period that shaped who I am, I was able to really relate to the film. One wide awake, one half asleep. Yet some of us were never allowed slumber. Some us were never allowed the illusions of freedom and only knew , were fed and oft-times accepted those limitations we were subjected to.
Rebellion is part of the American consciousness, repression is the creeping cancer we must collective remove. The Warshowski Brothers are from the same Chicago neighborhood as John Keehan, Beverly. Their first film in Chicago was Bound, a lesbian love tell where the girls just wanna take off with come Mob money. Beverly is in an Irish Catholic parish, St. Mary of Scotland. I wonder if they went to Mt CArmel also. Their worldview in not so different than Keehan's in their acceptance of diversity in their expressive ideologies. Their embracing of the writings of Cornell West is really interesting. As interesting as the underground internet claims that a black woman was the writer and real "Mother of the Matrix." (Please don't ask me, go Google it)They have engaged the issue of race in American in their own way and artfully responded to the creeping cancerous facsism that is rapidly becoming "US" at present.
I read Tsotsi when I was staying in London in 1982. I bought three books that affected me greatly during that stay, Tsotsi by my favorite playwright at that time, Athol Fugard, a book about Lagos, Nigeria titled Jaguaa Nana, by Cyprian Ekwensi, and Indaba, My Children, by Credo Mutwa.
These were all books that ran in my head as films back then. They came to life for me as I rode the Northen Line to Brixton and on the train to Croydon. I sat reading in Cafes in Camden Town and early mornings on weekends devouring these three books over a 3 week period. I long for that simple joy of reading today.
As much as I like the film, Tsotsi, it is as all films adapted from novels are, lacking, in the texture that connects viscerally. I the adore the film, but I love the book. What Fugard gave my 28 year old mind was a way to understand, to contiue to learn about African and myself. Having been to African but not to the South it helped my understand the expatriates I knew, gave me questions to ask, showed me ways in which we were so simlar in experiance. Fugard is white, but he was the voice speaking to me at that moment. I had seen his plays, I saw Boesman and Lena in London, I think a friend of mine we called T-Bone was in it.
Fugard's works were powerful connections to a place I was related to through friendships in London and Tanzania. I practiced partial arts on the beach in Dar Es Salaam with members of the ANC, guys my age and younger, they were going to war for real. Sad, I don't remember any of their names except for Pookie. In London I still missed Mongezi Feza, a jazz Trumpet player I knew from the 100 Club when I first arrived in London in 1974. He was playing with Dudu Pakwana. I fell in with the the South African expatriate community when I got to London becuse we all loved jazz. By 1975 Mongezi was dead of questionable circumstances and untreated pneumonia. Like Hendrix, he was a victim of perceptions and assumptions because they were black musicians and were "probably drunk or on drugs." Buth those are other stories for other times.
I met the director of Tsoti, Gavin Hood, at the London Film Fetsival in 1999 when he showed his first film, A Reasonable Man. He was writer, director and star. I was extremely inmpressed with his film. He was a South African filmmaker trying to some to terms with who he was in realtionship to the new reality of an a free South Africa. He was part of a new generation of white South African who were at last free to express themselves and their acceptance of ALL South Africans. We had a chat at the reception held at the South African embassy near Trafalgar Square. This was a place quite a few of us used to chant slogans at back in the 1970s. It was my first time inside. Ahhhh progress. Gavin was very forthright and anxious to meet people to hear what they thought about his film. A very down to earth guy. It was very easy to see he was going places. He had the craft and he had an different kind of heart.
I met Gavin again in Chicago at the Facets Children's Film Festival, in 2002, when he presented a rather odd Polish film, In Desert and Wilderness. Not his best, but a filmmaker needs to be always working like a horn palyer has to keep playing. I was not at all surprised that Tsotsi got the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. And oh boy, it is playing in 23 theaters nationwide. So does this mean Academy Awards do not make you economically viable? You are not worth the risk of a generous marketing campaign and like maybe 15o theaters. I guess if you don't get the "right" distibution this is how it is.
Interesting it was not offered first run to ICE Theaters which is a black owned theater chain. I guess since Ice Cube or 50 Cent is not in it they assumed the black audience might not like a foreign with subtitles.
So...That was my one day's vacation.
Back to the Count...
I have been getting a lot of help from people out there in the ether regarding Count Dante. People have responded to my blog with others to provide information, lodging should I go to their town, names of key individuals they think might be significant to the film.
Most notably is Jim Quattrocki, a student of Doug Dwyer's back in the late 1960s. Jim is assisting me with shooting of some interviews. We are going to do a recreation of the Dojo War based on Dante's account. A real basis montage of action to use in the 10 minute trailer.
Graham Nobel of the UK has been very helpful. He send me a video tape of an interview with Joe Lewis talking about Keehan as well as an article he wrote in 1980 for Fighting Arts magazine as well as a 1962 article about Keehan and Trias.
This John Keehan guy, Chicago Catholic Irish...classical singer, Marine, Army Ranger, martial artist, promoter, hairdresser, used car saleman, pet lion walker, porn shop owner, bouncer, brawler, criminal mastermind?? The challenges of doing this story justice seem overwhelming at times.
Now I got guys on the East Coast I am talking to who have these wierd stories about him. I am building an all-star cast of martial arts characters for this project. That is a good selling point. In case you are wondering, no, I am not telling it all.
I need to call the Fall River Lawyers about some stock footage and see what they want for it, if they really have anything, that is.