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The 7th Annual African Diaspora International Film Festival returns to Washington with films highlighting the experience of people of African descent and people of color around the world. A South African film showcases a style of dance created by the youth in townships. One director reimagines Shakespeare with a diverse cast. Another film focuses on African independence movements and what that history means today. Kojo speaks with the festival director, a filmmaker and an educator about how artists are grappling with diaspora issues.
- Reinaldo Barroso-Spech Co-Founder and Director, African Diaspora International Film Festival
- Kevin McIntosh Founder and Instructor, "Rhythm N Dance"
- Nadine Patterson Director, "Tango Macbeth."
“Tango Macbeth” Trailer
MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe African Diaspora International Film Festival gets under way in D.C. tomorrow. It's the festival's seventh year in Washington, bringing to the screen the experience of people of African descent and people of color from around the world. Highlights include a Senegalese film about a group of refugees who undertake a perilous journey by boat from Africa to Spain. Another film re-imagines Shakespeare with a contemporary multicultural cast. And a South African film explores a style of dance created by youth in the townships.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIf you have questions about this festival, feel free to call now, 800-433-8850. The festival director is here. You may have questions for him, 800-433-8850. He is Reinaldo Barroso-Spech, co-founder and director of the African Diaspora International Film Festival. He and his wife, Diarah N'Daw Spech, direct the festival. Reinaldo Barroso-Spech, thank you so much for joining us.
DR. REINALDO BARROSO-SPECHThank you for having me here.
NNAMDIAlso in studio with us is Nadine Patterson, director of the film "Tango Macbeth," screening as part of the African Diaspora International Film Festival. Nadine Patterson, thank you for joining us.
MS. NADINE PATTERSONThank you.
NNAMDIAnd Kevin Patterson (sic) is the founder of Rhythm N Dance, a local organization dedicated to preserving African diasporic culture through arts education. Kevin McIntosh, thank you for joining us.
MR. KEVIN MCINTOSHThank you.
NNAMDIAgain, if you have questions or comments, 800-433-8850. Reinaldo, you founded and co-direct this festival along with your wife. How did it all come about?
BARROSO-SPECHWell, this is part of my life as a teacher. This is what I am. I mean, I'm trying to say the best way I can that I am a teacher, and I'm using films to teach the richness and diversity of all people of African descent and people of color in general. I wrote a paper on that, how to use films, how to use poetry in the classroom. I began my teaching career in New York City.
NNAMDIAt Columbia University's Teachers College.
BARROSO-SPECHThat's right. That's right. I went there. I have several degrees from that institution. And I have an experience in teaching students who, in certain cases, are called students at risk. I worked in many Title VII schools in New York City. And I realized that students were much more motivated by watching films that explain and depict stories that were close to their human experience than hear me talk about things that sometimes they don't even know what I was talking about. So this is how the whole story began.
BARROSO-SPECHAnd then my wife -- we are a multi-cultural couple. I was born in Cuba. My wife was born in France. But we are both black. I'm talking about something that is very obvious. I'm not talking about something that you have to go back into my lineage or something like that. It's obvious when you see both of us.
BARROSO-SPECHAnd then we sat with my mom, who is no longer with us, well, we discussed with her about this idea. And she follow us, and we put some money together. We didn't know anything about sponsors. We didn't know anything about celebrities and things like that. And the festival started in 1993 in New York City. The interesting thing in this festival is that we are now in Washington, D.C.
BARROSO-SPECHWe are celebrating our seventh anniversary, and that means that for seven years, the audience here in Washington, D.C. has welcomed us with open arms. The same thing happened in Chicago. We, last June, celebrated 11 years of work in Chicago, and it's the same reaction. We come to communities that, in many cases, don't even know that people like us exist because when you say my wife is French and she was born in Paris and all that but...
NNAMDIYou were born in Cuba, but you're part Jamaican. You're part something else, yes.
BARROSO-SPECHYou see what I mean? I mean, it's like, OK. Who are you guys? I say, well, we are black folks trying to empower our population, our communities through films and dialogue.
NNAMDIThe African Diaspora International Film Festival opens tomorrow night, Aug. 16, at the Goethe Institute at 812 7th Street, Northwest. And we'll be talking about some of the films in the festival today. What's the selection process, Reinaldo, for films to become part of this festival?
BARROSO-SPECHWe watch many films all year long. We get submissions. We go to festivals. We go to movie theaters, simply put. And then we have members of the committee who watch films. We sit down and talk. And little by little, we build ideas about ideas about the films we want to have in the film because most of all, we want to be diverse.
BARROSO-SPECHWe don't want to repeat. Even though we are at the center of all these stories, we want to show diversity. We want to show good -- how can I put it -- good cinema because we both, Diarah and I and all the members of the group, we have the idea that a good film is a good story. And we have very good storytellers.
NNAMDIKevin McIntosh, one film resonated with you, and you were instrumental in bringing that film to D.C. as part of the festival. Tell us about "The African Cypher" and the style of dance apparently known as pantsula.
MCINTOSHYes. "The African Cypher" takes place in South Africa. And the dance pantsula is isn't -- is not only just a dance, but it's also a group of people. It's a culture. It's a way of life. It's something that could be related to, you know, when people think of the Rasta in Jamaica, it's not just a hairstyle or music or a thing of that nature. It's a lifestyle.
MCINTOSHSo the movie talks about several different dance groups or people within various, different dance groups, and it follows their life through their daily days of going and trying to evolve or become more than what their situation is or become more than what their experience is. And I think that that -- it resonated with me because for me to be the person that I am living here in Washington, D.C., you know, I had to become more than what I was supposed to be or what people thought I was going to be.
MCINTOSHI'm originally from Brooklyn, N.Y. I lived here in D.C. for the past 13 years. And I work with young people here in Washington, D.C. So when I first heard about the movie, I was like, oh, my goodness. I got to put my young people in the front of this movie.
NNAMDII'm going to talk about the young people you work with in a second. But how did you find out about this film and have it screened here as part of the festival?
MCINTOSHWell, as a performing artist and an arts educator myself, I travel a lot. So I've been doing a lot of work in Northern California, and I was actually talking to one of the people who I work with out there. Her name is Portia Jefferson. She had a -- she has a dance company out there, and she was like, Kev, you got to see this movie. So, like, I literally, you know, the gift of social media, I looked it up and I was like, man, I got to get this movie to Washington, D.C.
MCINTOSHSo I reached out to Filipa Domingues, who is one of the producers from the movie, literally through her Facebook fan page and was like, what do I have to do to get this movie to Washington, D.C.? So she was asking me if there was a film festival that was coming around. Lo and behold, the African Diaspora Film Festival was coming around. So I reached out to them and then I said to them, what do I have to do to get this movie here in Washington, D.C.?
MCINTOSHAnd the beautiful think about it is that I -- the thing that resonates to me about the Diaspora film festival is the fact that these movies speak truth. And that's something that you do not see when you have the television on, when you turn on cable or anything like that. So when movies speak truth through art, that's something that can resonate, and it includes the entire diaspora, the African Diaspora. So...
NNAMDIWell, let me tell you about that because we had the film director and producer Lee Daniels on the show last week about his new film "The Butler," which is about an African-American butler who served in the White House through eight presidencies. And here's Lee Daniels talking about what his son said after he saw that film.
MR. LEE DANIELSHe loved the movie, and he thought it was great. And that made me feel good. And then I said, I know. It's such a great accomplishment, isn't it? He said, but, dad, I want to see "Spider-Man," but I want to see a black Spider-Man. I want to see a black Superman. You know, I want to see somebody that I can identify with. And I don't know that, though he looks up to Denzel and to Will Smith, these are -- he wants to see an action movie with people that look like him.
NNAMDIWell, Nadine, we'll talk about your specific movie in a second, but I'm interested in hearing how you and Reinaldo respond to that because it seems to me that's exactly what you're talking about in your work.
PATTERSONWell, it's interesting. I saw his film at the sneak preview in Philadelphia a couple of weeks ago, and it's an amazing film. It shows working middle-class black Americans in our reality for the first time ever in a Hollywood big-budget movie. But we still need to see heroes and we need to see villains. I mean, we need to see complex, three-dimensional men and women and children.
PATTERSONSo in my film "Tango Macbeth," I wanted to have people of color be able to access one of the greatest writers of all time in the English language, William Shakespeare. And I had an open casting process. I said, I don't care if you're black, white, yellow, purple, whatever, male or female, you can audition for this film. So it's about opportunity and diversity, and it's important.
NNAMDIWhere the idea for this film come from?
PATTERSONWell, I set it for several years at the London Film School, and I got to know several really wonderful Afro-British actors who were also incredible dancers. And they said, Nadine, in order for us to advance in our career, we have to perform Shakespeare, but there are no opportunities beyond, like, one part, a fellow, to do Shakespeare. So I said, I'm going to do a film so you can act in, and it's going to be awesome. It's going to be Shakespeare. There's going to be dance. It's going to be wonderful. So that's where the idea came from.
PATTERSON'Cause I think it's about a very interesting couple, the marital dynamics between the Macbeths and between the Macduffs is very, very profound and compelling. And I think it's an interesting look at relationships gone bad and relationships that between good people that don't quite work.
NNAMDIBack to the Lee Daniels quote. For you, Reinaldo, because it seems that -- as I said to Nadine, that's exactly what you're talking about in presenting this film festival, showing black people in a variety of roles and a variety of situations that you probably won't see anyplace else. And it's very important, I suspect, for young people, in general, and black, young people, in particular, to see this.
BARROSO-SPECHYes. I mean, I was talking to Kevin about that that it is a privileged moment in Washington, D.C., and I am very humbled because I'm contributing to that moment that at the same time, we have a studio film out there with an incredible casting and an incredible story. We come with our little film festival with our films, and we enhance the cultural landscape of this city for three days, at least.
BARROSO-SPECHAnd this is one of the goals or aims we had when we started, that of contributing, because if I tell you, my knowledge of all the parts of the world where I can see multiracial and multicultural societies, I must tell you without a shadow of a doubt, that in the United States of America, you have a group of movers and shakers, and I'm proud to be part of them who are trying to present a very rich, diverse and uplifting image of the global black experience.
NNAMDIDr. Reinaldo Barroso-Spech is co-founder and director of the African Diaspora International Film Festival with his wife, Diarah N'Daw Spech. He joins is in studio along with Nadine Patterson, director of the film "Tango Macbeth," screening as part of the African Diaspora International Film Festival, which opens tomorrow night, Aug. 16, at the Goethe Institute, 812 7th Street Northwest.
NNAMDIAnd Kevin McIntosh is with us. He's the founder of Rhythm N Dance, a local organization dedicated to preserving African diasporic culture through arts and education. The reason "The African Cypher" resonated with you, Kevin, is precisely because of Rhythm N Dance. Tell us about it.
MCINTOSHWell, Rhythm N Dance is an arts education organization based here in Washington, D.C. And what our sole purpose is to educate young people on African diasporic performing arts. We just finished our summer youth program that we have partnered with the D.C. Summer Youth Employment Program, and we put on a performance, I believe it was last Tuesday, at the Anacostia Arts Center. And it was an amazing journey, an amazing process.
MCINTOSHSo, you know, before then, we did some work in Haiti. We're about to go back to Haiti to work with a school in Bel Air, Port-au-Prince, with the Edeyo Foundation. And last year, we also took a trip to Senegal taking four young brothers from the inner city of South Side of Chicago and two young ladies from Washington, D.C. to Senegal to have that cultural experience.
MCINTOSHSo for me, it's all about the kids, and it's all about, you know, showing them that cultural expression, and it's something that extends beyond their normal neighborhood situation. It's -- you have a connection, and that connection is to that African diaspora.
NNAMDI"The African Cypher" will be screening this Saturday at 3:30 p.m., and Nadine Patterson's film "Tango Macbeth" is the closing night film. It screens this Sunday at 5 p.m. Nadine, you talked about you opened up casting for everyone else.
NNAMDIThe setting for your film is a rehearsal of the play, but you didn't script and shoot this in a traditional way. It's a film of play being filmed. Reminded me a little bit about this movie "The Act of Killing" that I saw yesterday, which was a film...
NNAMDI...about film being filmed.
NNAMDICan you explain how you approached this and why you...
NNAMDI...chose to go that route?
PATTERSONWe shot "Tango Macbeth" over 11 days in a 100-degree heat -- between 95 and 102-degree heat in Philadelphia at this wonderful, old -- 100-year old theater called Plays and Player on Delancey Street. And we had three cameras running at all times in the dressing room, then two in the theater on stage and on the balcony.
PATTERSONSo we were able -- I told the actors, look, my script did, you know, behind-the-scenes dialogue. It's horrible. I'm just going to follow you around. The cameras will follow you around. Just know that whatever you say is going to be on camera. And so it's this interesting mix-up improvisation, documentary and Shakespeare's text.
PATTERSONIt is Shakespeare. It is Shakespeare, but it's gorgeous. I mean, Brian Anthony Wilson is one of our key actors. He plays Macduff, and he is formerly of "The Wire..."
PATTERSON...which is a renowned...
NNAMDIWe know him.
PATTERSON...television show. He is brilliant as Macduff. And so we go from the theater of him saying, "Awake, awake. Ring the alarum bell. Murder, treason." And then we cut to this gorgeous castle where he's inside dressed to the nines in this beautiful, elaborate environment. So we go from the actor's rehearsal to what they imagine their surroundings to be in characters. Just very, very exciting.
NNAMDIYou can find a trailer of that film on our website, kojoshow.org. You might want to go there and look at it. It's my understanding you had your location for a single day. How do you direct a film like this...
NNAMDI...that's close to improvisation with a limited time for your location?
PATTERSONOK. We were in the theater for 11 days. We were at the theater where the murder of the king takes place in the castle and the dance ballroom and the exterior of the castle. We were there for one day. And we also shot the out, out damned spot thing with Lady Macbeth as she's trying to rid herself of the guilt of the blood that's been spilled between her and her husband. So we shot basically four scenes in one day, yeah, for free at Arcadia University in Philadelphia. So how do you do it? You have to have a fantastic cast and crew. That's all I can say.
NNAMDIYeah. Give all the credit to the cast and crew. Obviously, the director had a great deal to do with this.
PATTERSONA little bit, and the producer.
NNAMDIAnd the music and the settings all reflect the diversity you want capture how.
PATTERSONYes. We have Asian woodwind instruments, Asian percussion instruments, Indian classical music, you know, the ragas. We have Argentinean tango. We have electronic music. We have rock guitar. I mean, this film, if you're -- wherever you are, if you're European, African, Asian, Latino, you will find something in this film to relate to culturally. I guarantee it.
NNAMDIReinaldo, you mentioned that the film festival launched back in 1993. It's now 20 years. It's been coming to D.C., for now some seven years. You say the audience here has been receptive. One of the highlights of this year's festival, which was also included when the festival was in New York, is a film by a Senegalese director. It filmed at Cannes in 2012. Can you talk a little bit about "The Pirogue?" Is that's how it's pronounced?
BARROSO-SPECHYes, "The Pirogue." This is a film -- I mean, Moussa Toure, I wouldn't say that he is a new filmmaker. Moussa Toure has been around -- I think he's in his 50s now. And he is very much following the steps of Senegalese filmmakers, who in their work have a strong social commentary. I'm talking about Ousmane Sembene...
NNAMDIThe best known.
BARROSO-SPECH...I'm talking about Djibril Diop, I'm talking about Khady Sylla just to mention three. "The Pirogue" is a film that shows us the richness of the Senegalese culture. The film begins with this scene of wrestling. And those who have been to Senegal, have been exposed to that, they know that this is a big show. And at that same time, you see these men struggling to face realities that we face in Africa today.
BARROSO-SPECHIf you look at "The Pirogue," if you watch "African Independence" and then "Otomo," which is not a recent film but we wanted to bring into this programming as a way to give some background -- because I come from the perspective that we have the right to remember, and films help us remember and stay focused in a number of issues -- you see then that the richness that we have because of different problems we have in Africa, we are not able to really enjoy and then some people decide that leaving is the final solution.
BARROSO-SPECHSo this is a film about this situation. Should I stay? Should I leave? Is leaving the possibility of finding a better life, or just these risks of finding a better life? I mean -- and this is a film. And it is a film that those who have been exposed to African cinema for many years and have complain that African films in general have this and that, I think "The Pirogue," a Senegalese film, is going to make them feel that African cinema in general is moving towards a better future.
BARROSO-SPECHI must tell you that you have powerhouses in Africa. South Africa is one of them. Egypt is another one. Last year, we had a film from Egypt here. "Scheherazade, Tell Me a Story," an incredible film. And we are doing that because one of our firm intentions in this festival is to find those good films that tell the world that we are learning and we are progressing.
NNAMDII called the film "The Pirogue." Well, it's "The Pirogue," as he calls it.
NNAMDIKevin, it's my understanding that you are also collaborating on several events around the African Cypher. Can you talk about that?
MCINTOSHYes. So tonight -- in order for us to bring this film to D.C., we wanted to collaborate with some other people in the community. So one of the people who -- one of the organizations we're collaborating with is the Parallel Film Collective. And they have an event tonight. I believe it's at Marvin, Club Marvin, and is -- the event is called Hair At The Gate. And for more information, you can definitely check us out on facebook.com/rhythmndance for more info. We have information posted up there.
MCINTOSHAnd we are also trying -- we also collaborated with Lesole's Dance Project. Lesole's Dance Project was founded by a South African by the name of Lesole Maine. He's been in the D.C. metropolitan area for a good number of years. And we've collaborated before in other events. And so he's also helping us out with respect to potentially having a dance class, but we're trying to settle up on a location for that.
NNAMDIAfraid we're almost out of time, but allow me to remind you that the African Diaspora International Film Festival opens tomorrow night, Aug. 16, at the Goethe Institute, 812 7th Street, Northwest. African Cypher screening, Saturday at 3:30, "Tango Macbeth." Closing night film screens Sunday at five. And post-screening dialogues are particularly important aspect of this festival, so you'll want to go and participate in those. Dr. Reinaldo Barroso-Spech is co-founder and director of the International African Diaspora Film Festival. Thank you for joining us.
BARROSO-SPECHThank you for having me.
NNAMDINadine Patterson is director of the film "Tango Macbeth." Thank you for joining us, Nadine.
PATTERSONThank you so much.
NNAMDIAnd Kevin McIntosh is the founder of Rhythm N Dance. Kevin, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIAnd thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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