When we screen Revolution ’67, audiences appreciate seeing the Newark of the ’60s and learning about the causes of the 1967 rebellion, but they’re always eager to ask the question: “How is Newark today?”
Our answer is that Newark continues to struggle. The city has grown even more dangerous, rising from the 22nd most dangerous U.S. city in 2006 to the 20th this year. The homicide rate is already higher than it was in 2006. Former Mayor Sharpe James, who is featured in our film, is facing the possibility of a federal probe for corruption. In a recent Newark Police review, the department was found to be “woefully under-equipped, disorganized [and] badly trained.” So, it struck a chord when historian Nell Irvin Painter commented in our interview, “I think that it’s a scandal that we spend so much money on the war on terrorism, which is not defined as what goes on in disrupted neighborhoods where people are terrified of walking in the street.”
With the poverty level at 25 percent, unemployment at 10 percent, and municipal workers (many of whom are Newark residents) facing massive layoffs to close a $180 million budget gap, Newark, on October 25, 2007, will unveil a $212 million dollar investment touted as reviving the downtown area: a hockey arena. But what about reviving the neighborhoods? Haven’t we learned from our past? Haven’t we been down this road before?
Despite the stats, we remain optimistic, because as Newark residents, we want change and will continue to work for that change to occur. At our screenings, we’re often asked why we live here. The answer is simple. It’s our home. It has inspired us. Although Newark has a lot of problems, it has incredible assets, including vibrant ethnic cultures, a 17-minute commute to New York City, and a five-minute ride to an international airport. It also has an Olmstead-designed park, a world-class arts center, one of our favorite museums — the Newark Museum, a score of exceptional eateries, Rutgers University and fine architecture including the Cathedral Basilica of the Sacred Heart and apartment buildings designed by Mies van der Rohe. Newark has the pieces, but it’s up to the people to make sure that the leaders put them together correctly.
In 2007, Amiri Baraka revived his racially charged 1964 play Dutchman at the Cherry Lane Theater in New York; Tom Hayden continues his activism with his new book Ending the War in Iraq (Akashic); and of course, Newark commemorates its 40th anniversary of the summer of 1967.
We have two narrative screenplays in development, tackling similar issues in two corners of the world — Newark and Venice, Italy.
The first project is the adaptation of Revolution ’67, the documentary, into a fictional film executive-produced by Spike Lee.
The second film is Watermark, a love story set in post-Katrina New Orleans and Venice, Italy, intercoastal cities plagued by floods and global warming.
What links these seemingly disparate stories is a thread of corruption — whether it’s city government in Newark in ’67, when its mayor was convicted and sent to federal prison, or what was revealed about ill-prepared New Orleans after the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina, or the logistics of erecting a $4 billion dam of questionable efficacy to curb the tides in the Venice lagoon.
What we see emerging in our filmmaking is the use of documentary as “research” for our fiction. A few months post-Katrina, we shot documentary footage in New Orleans, and in the winter of ’06, we recorded three weeks of a Venice under water. Jean-Luc Godard said, “In filmmaking, you can either start with fiction or documentary. But whichever you start with, you inevitably find the other.”