by Len Lear
Five years ago I wrote in these pages, “Move over, Spike Lee. Rel Dowdell, 39-year-old native of Germantown and graduate of Central High School (248th graduating class in 1989), may just be the next great black filmmaker. His second feature film, ‘Changing the Game,’ opened last Friday at selected AMC theaters in Philadelphia, New York City, Washington, D.C., Atlanta and Chicago, with a nationwide release to follow. AMC Theatres is the second-largest motion picture exhibitor in North America.”
“He is an outstanding filmmaker,” said Bob Demers, the director of photography on Rel’s breakthrough feature. “I shot his first thesis for him at Boston University (where Dowdell earned a master’s degree in
the film school), a short named ‘Train Ride.’ I have known Rel for 15 or 20 years.”
Dowdell is back with a powerful documentary, “Where’s Daddy,” which counters the widely held perception that so many black fathers are absent from the lives of their children. It is one hour and 45 minutes long and was shot entirely in the Philadelphia area.
The film will have its premiere at the Kimmel Center on Friday, Oct. 27, 8 p.m. “Thankfully,” Rel told us last week, “the Kimmel Center is very supportive of independent filmmakers from the area who are doing quality work.”
Following is part of an interview with Rel last week:
Q: When did you begin working on “Where’s Daddy?”
“The concept came about two years ago. Two of my producers, Melody Forrester and Skye Dennis, sat down with me and mapped out a plan to do the film and do it effectively on a tight budget.”
Q: What is the basic story, and how did you come up with it?
“I was exasperated by always seeing stereotypical and exploitative fare like ‘The Maury Povich Show,’ which continuously shows African American fathers shunning and running from being responsible parents.
“Those are very damaging images to put out there to the general public, for people believe that irresponsible foolishness as fact. That is not the case by a long shot. There are a plethora of African American fathers who truly are good and loving parents but have crippling circumstances that hinder them from doing so.
“I wanted to give those types of African American fathers the rare chance to tell their stories and truly educate the masses to what’s real. There is no shucking and jiving in my films. People have a low enough opinion of African American men in this country and beyond, no matter how accomplished they are.
“That’s one of the biggest problems now. I am very mindful of how I show African Americans in my film, for film is the most powerful and consummate form of artistic expression, in my opinion. There is nothing in film that cannot be done. Every film I have made was to show African American men overcoming seemingly insurmountable odds and beating them.
“Even though this is my first feature-length documentary, this film still has that message integrated throughout the fabric of it.”
Q: Who are some of the subjects in the film?
“Former Philadelphia Eagles Pro Bowl receiver Fred Barnett, writer/author Mister Mann Frisby, comedian J’Vonne Pearson, rap artist Freeway, clinical psychologist Dr. Kathleen Walls, Bishop James D. Robinson, Philadelphia
Basketball Hall of Fame coach Bill Ellerbee and many more.”
Q: How did you raise the money to make the film?
“Through some very kind benefactors who believed in the messages and themes of the film. If you’re a skilled filmmaker, you can make good and resonant films with whatever funds you have raised.
“It’s certainly not easy, but it’s definitely possible. Also importantly, I had a superb post-production supervisor whose name is Geoff Morris, and he really helped me get the film to the finish line in grand style.”
Q: What is your hope for the film, to get it into film festivals?
“Miraculously and thankfully, the film has already secured a wonderful distribution deal and will be out in February, 2018. It will hopefully have some theatrical exposure for awards consideration and then hit the ancillary markets with substantial momentum.”
Q: Who are your own favorite filmmakers?
“Alfred Hitchcock, Francois Truffaut, Gordon Parks, Charles Burnett, Stanley Kubrick, Brian DePalma and David Cronenberg.”
Q: What are your all-time favorite films?
“Tough question. There are too many to name. I do want to
mention two films many have not seen. Charles Burnett’s ‘To Sleep With Anger’ is a cerebral masterpiece. Francois Truffaut’s ‘400 Blows’ was masterful urban cinema before there was such a thing. Martin Scorsese’s ‘The King of Comedy’ is incredible on many levels, comedic and serious.”
For ticket information for the premiere of “Where’s Daddy” Friday night, visit www.kimmelcenter.org.