Raafi Riveroimages and ideas

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Raafi Rivero is a filmmaker and photographer based in Brooklyn, NY. Click here for professional inquiries.

These missives have been posted at varying intervals since 2006 when “moblogging” was a thing. Please explore work and ideas here, elsewhere, or on the social platform of your choice:

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This is my grandfather’s Columbia University football jacket. It’s about ninety years old. I wore it for the first time Sunday and have scarcely taken it off since. It makes me feel invincible.

In 1931 Manuel Rivero was the star halfback for the Lions. At the time, many college football coaches observed what they called the “gentleman’s agreement,” which meant if one coach had a black player and the other didn’t, then the “gentleman” coach wouldn’t play his black player that game. Fuck manners. My grandfather’s teammates found out about it on the train to a game and told the coach that they wouldn’t play either. It’s because of that game and others like it where teammates, allies, stood up against racism that black players were allowed to play college football.

Football was my favorite sport as a kid and my dream was to play quarterback in the NFL. Now I don’t even watch football because of Colin Kaepernick and concussions. In high school I was skinny and didn’t go out for the team. And, besides, our quarterback, Phil Lintz, once said “bless you” after I sneezed a bunch of times in the locker room. Each time. After every sneeze. “Bless you.” What was that stupid thing I said before about manners?

I never thanked Phil that day because my manners were off. I was intimidated; he was the quarterback. For that, I apologize, and offer a belated thank you.

My grandfather was consistent. He watched Wheel of Fortune every day. He also socked away a hundred dollars in a Merrill Lynch account every month for decades and that’s how my mom was able to afford sending me to an Ivy League school. If need-blind admissions had been in place maybe I wouldn’t have gotten in. My grandmother, Grace, used to tell stories about how she had other suitors, “but that Rivero fella kept hanging around.” She’d been a professor and spoke the most beautiful English you’d ever hear in your life. My mother speaks like that, too, and my dad’s a journalist. It’s because of them that I’m able to use all the fancy words you be hearing me say.

When I was eight Lincoln University named its gymnasium Manuel Rivero Hall. Both grandparents taught there for over forty years. I wore my Raiders jacket to the ceremony.

In the film Bladerunner, digital characters think they’re real because of the photos they possess, their memories. In this digital simulacrum I share my memories with you.

Around high school my dream changed from playing football, to making movies. I’m working on a new film now, a short. You’ll probably hear me say something about it around these parts. I think being a film director is about the closest job there is to being a quarterback. And for the next few weeks I get to live out my dream a little bit. I have my grandfather to thank for some of that. And you’d best believe I’m wearing his football jacket every single day.

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I’ve been listening to Tha Carter V this week but have meant to do some writing about Lil Wayne for years. [THREAD].

Lil Wayne howls. Your instincts kick in. This voice from the hurt of all of creation gives you a peek. There’s light inside.

If the world is pain then Lil Wayne is a purple, syrupy, cocktail to make it all go down smooth.

If the world is good then Lil Wayne is a reminder that it ain’t always and maybe you should enjoy the moments you can.

Gun talk, drug talk, sex talk, money talk. Too blue.

Lil Wayne, twisted up smile, cracking jokes from the border of the universe. Crying from inside your own heart.

Lil Wayne the bling prince, jester king, dying slow on the throne, long tokes of that sticky waft in curls between us, sinuous.

Life is a gift, each thrilling moment the swoop of a wooden roller coaster, creaky on purpose, bruising your hips, reaching down your throat to snatch out peals of laughter.

We all need love. And waste it. And need back what we lost.

A string of diamonds, teeth, pearls, lyrics, curved like a smile choking back tears. The string pops and they clatter across the marble floor.

Lil Wayne once told an interviewer, “I’m not a poet. I rap.”

A streak of sunlight, blinding, you squint. No, that’s a bullet. Too late.

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I recently interviewed Lisa D’Apolito, director of the documentary Love, Gilda for the website NoFilmSchool. Years ago, when I was doing freelance editing work, Lisa would hire me for gigs at her ad agency. We’d both stopped working for the agency a year or two before she started working on the film and I can remember her telling me she wanted to do a feature about Gilda Radner. I’m sure I nodded and said something encouraging, gave to the IndieGogo campaign and kept it moving. Nearly five years later the film was selected as opening night film at the Tribeca Film Festival and played 50 cities this past weekend. Go Lisa!

I interviewed her in the lobby of a hotel in Manhattan, doing my best impersonation of a journalist, but really the questions were things I wanted to know, filmmaker-to-filmmaker. One of my favorite responses is below, but please read the whole thing over at NoFilmSchool.

Rivero: Were there things that you really wanted to do as a filmmaker that took your collaborators awhile to understand? How did you end up getting those things to work in the film?


D’Apolito: Getting the audio of her voice to work was my number one, most adamant thing. There was nobody who really said, “this is going to work.” The audio quality was so bad from some of the materials everybody said, “this isn’t going to work.” We kept digging and subsequently found other pieces. I spent a couple years tracking down anything I could find of Gilda. If I read somewhere that Gilda was in New Orleans, I would go through all the newspapers, and if someone did an interview with her, I would try to contact the journalist and say, “Do you still have the tape?”

The film is funny and touching. The fact that Gilda Radner’s voice anchors the story gives it an authenticity that’s rare in a celebrity biopic. The fact that it took so much effort to get the voice part to work, makes it all the more special. Be sure to catch the film in theaters as well. I’ve seen it twice. Once as a journalist, and once in a big old movie theater, just for myself.

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Ed. note: This piece was originally written as prose but has also been posted as Twitter-native thread. I present it here with paragraphs in their original, rather than tweet-sized forms.

In my early 20s I subscribed to Sports Illustrated and still regret throwing away the LeBron James “Chosen One” cover. We’d had the magazine around the house growing up and I always looked forward to the next issue, to Mike Tyson in plain black trunks, Elle Macpherson in teal. My father, a journalist himself, once told me that sports were good because they were the first place where a black man could compete with a white man on an even playing field.

As an adult, the writer Gary Smith moved me beyond words. His feature about the Darling twins, one of whom died in football practice at a brand-name university wrecked me for a solid half hour. “He bought two cakes,” I blubbered between sobs after reading of the surviving twin’s birthday, “he bought two cakes.”

Smith is a master at endings. One final stitch to cinch the whole thing together. I bought his first anthology, read it twice.

The sports writing landscape is as strong as ever – the web has empowered a great many voices, like @netw3rk and @freedarko. But the authority of a small, edited volume serving us the final word is long gone. I find myself listening to the podcast of two fellows broadcasting from a garage to an audience of three. Or maybe it’s just that the end of scarcity has trampled my ability to savor words. The faucet is always on, and so I am always drunk on cheap, boxed sports wine. I mean, writing.

In the era of the tweet, of punchline rap, the succinct ones dominate.

And when you look away from sports, back to things that “really matter,” the writers chopping away at growling winds of injustice armed only with hatchets, it’s enough to run back to the balmier pastures of Howard Beck and Bill Simmons, refreshing their feeds, a lab rat on meth.

I lost football, the game I first loved, because of a racist team name, rampant commercialism, concussions, unfair labor practices, and the response to Colin Kaepernick. I revel in the aesthetics of a perfect jumpshot while white nationalists throw gang signs at Supreme Court confimation hearings. And can’t find the person to tell me that the jumpshot will beat the bigot.

Words are not the blanket they once were. The even playing fields are shrinking up. We stand at the plate waving at hundred mile an hour fastballs with toothpics for bats; they splinter in our hands.

Sometimes it feels like world has gone to Hell these last few years. Fighting back, dragging this place towards normal, to good, like an ox with a thick rope through its teeth, pulling the thing back to sanity is our job as writers and artists. It’s the job of scientists and politicians, activists and educators. Journalists and plumbers. It’s the job of citizens. I’m not very good working with these crude tools. And there aren’t enough of us to plow this whole field. Not yet anyway. Not in nice rows where each plant breaks through the dirt at a different angle, but they all grow into perfect eight foot stalks of sweet summer corn.

The plants swish and sway in the breeze. Like the net after Steph Curry hit that game-winner against OKC and Crip Walked afterwards and one of the broadcasters in the postgame said, “I’ve never seen a man be so free on a basketball court.”

Sports writing taught me about writing. I miss it. The tweets will suffice and there’s a bigger game afoot.

The competition is fierce, unrelenting. Their uniforms are the black robes of judges, police blues, pantsuits and the pinstripes of tycoons. The playing field stretches out in every direction, to gray mountain passes crammed with boulders and deep canyons in mercury.

There are no pages to house the story. The cover pic of an eighteen-year-old with cornrows, crossover cold as the dickens, and a can’t lose smile just flashed by on Instagram. The caption reads, “we gon’ make it.” And I believe her.

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Or, a true story of how I got the Red Sox a W in the Spring of 1991. Correlation is not causation, blah-blah, read on, unless you’re a heartless worm:

A wealthy benefactor once bought my entire eighth grade class tickets to a Red Sox game. I told my friend Greg that we should start the Wave. And at first it was just the two of us standing up like mid-size humanoid whack-a-mole idiots.

Eventually, a few other classmates joined in. The energy wavered a bit. We kept going.

A few non 8th graders took pity on us and joined our ridiculous little ripple. And by the bottom of the inning ALL OF FENWAY PARK was doing the Wave. The place was rocking.

Then Mike Greenwell hit a go-ahead three-run homer that ended up being the game winner.

I’ve always felt like that was a good metaphor for what it takes to do something big. You need allies, serendipity, a backer, but most importantly you need to START and to STAY COMMITTED.

I’ve loved movies my whole life and have been working in and around film for about 15 years. I wrote and directed my first feature a couple years ago. And every day I’m at it, getting my butt kicked in some part or another of this crazy process.

Wait, it’s coming around again. Stand up in 3… 2…

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I’ve been a fan of the song Nardis since hearing a version on a Ron Carter album many years ago, and was surprised then to know of a Miles Davis composition I hadn’t heard him play. It turns out the song has a twisted history and there has even been some dispute about whether Davis even wrote it, as the song came to be most associated with one of Miles’ former pianists, Bill Evans. The song has been interpreted by any number of Jazz combos in any instrumentation you can imagine. A few years ago I went on a tear and purchased five versions of the song by five different artists, including Evans original 1956 recording. Later, I purchased a recording he did much later in life when his performance bears a much heavier emotional resonance.

Evans once told a friend that a musician should be able to maintain focus on a single tone in his mind for at least five minutes—and in playing like this, he achieved a nearly mystical immersion in the music: a state of pure, undistracted concentration.

This article by Steve Silberman makes my exploration as a listener seem petty by contrast – the author keeps a ranking of his favorite 100 recordings of Nardis handy at all times. Though Silberman clears up the song’s provenance in favor of Miles Davis, Nardis, to me, will always belong to Bill Evans in the same way that All Along the Watchtower belongs to Jimi Hendrix even though Bob Dylan wrote it. The article is not so much about the weight or skill of interpretation as it is of an artist concerned with developing a process that allowed for a career of exploration, despite personal struggles. We should all strive for such clarity.

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This shot is from before the screening of Rock Rubber 45s last night in Central Park.

When I was in college there was an amazing scene on campus. A kind of pan-ethnic people-of-color thang that looked like Heaven to me. But once I got out in the “real world” I couldn’t find anything else like it. I spent years looking for bars, clubs and events that resembled the simple, functional way that people I knew from different backgrounds were able to hang out. People would say, “the real world isn’t like that.” They’d tell me to stop looking for that place.

Rock Rubber 45s is the story of one person’s life. Bobbito’s life, his ups and downs, heartbreaks and successes. And yet, onscreen in interviews, **talking**, you see a black woman, asian woman, white woman, latin woman, black man, asian man, white man, latin man. You see the rainbow. You see people. Not as part of some cookie-cutter, paint-by-numbers scheme, but because those are the people who were there. Those are the people we needed to tell the stories. I don’t know if anyone will notice or even care that the film is constructed out of such a disparate group of voices. But I noticed, and it matters to me.

Coming to Central Park for the screening, I knew that scene would show up in force, in full color. The scene I’d been looking for since college, the scene you’d find at APT and Bar Sputnik and just a handfull of other places. I wasn’t disappointed. This is not to say that any one scene actually *is* a panacea. There are the trappings, the annoyances, the quirks. But, damn. I bet this crew has a better chance of saving the world than most.

UpdateRock Rubber 45s was just chosen as an NYTimes Critics Pick! The film has its theatrical premiere at the Metrograph this week and is scheduled for a run at the Maysles Documentary Center uptown in July. I’ll be doing a post-screening Q&A July 10th.

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Over the past year or so I’ve had the privilege to serve as the editor for the feature-length documentary Rock Rubber 45s. The film tells the life story of iconic New Yorker (and one of my personal heroes) Bobbito Garcia, aka Kool bob Love, who directed it as well. I think it’s an important story about perseverance and following your intuition. It was an inspiration to wake up each day and figure out how to help best tell Bobbito’s unique story. The soundtrack is killer, too.

The film had its US Premiere at the Kennedy Center in DC and plays in New York for the first time at SummerStage. For most of my career, I’ve wanted to make intelligent filmed content targeted at a hip-hop audience. In just the past few months I’ve been lucky to have a hand in two projects with just that aim. Take a look.

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Tongues were suddenly wagging on the DC playgrounds. That was the immediate impact of Michael Jordan. Every school recess was an opportunity to play basketball for fifteen minutes. It went without saying. And then out of nowhere, we all played ball with our tongues out. Especially if you were driving on a kid and knew you could score on him. This is not the reason that Michael Jordan is the greatest basketball player of all time, but it is a fact.

Growing up, the inevitability of Jordan’s Bulls teams winning the championship felt unfair. He won so much that we wanted to storm off in a huff and complain to our mothers. And yet, on the court, we’d attempt to soar in Jordan’s dunk pose even if the apex of our leaps stopped a good six inches short of the rim. He was our standard bearer. There was no shame in failing to replicate his moves perfectly.

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It happened. My movie, 72 Hours: a Brooklyn Love Story? is out there in the world! Buy or rent a copy now on Amazon, iTunes, and YouTube (among others!) – we’re also OnDemand via most cable providers. Check local listings, ha, and Thank You so much for your support along the way. I’m beaming.

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Here’s an end of Summer loosie I never got around to posting. The whine of dirt bikes in the distance is something I associate with Brooklyn. I still haven’t captured the photo I want of the dudes screaming past but this one’ll do for now.

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Striding off the plane and toward the Milwaukee Film Festival won’t be like heading to L.A. a year ago, having barely slept and giddy for a date with destiny. The premiere of a director’s first feature film will always be special, mine certainly was. I’m not coming to Milwaukee a seasoned vet either, more of an early-mid-career type of vibe. In a snatch of time before putting my phone into airplane mode I learn that the first two screenings have sold out of advance tickets. On the other end of the flight I learn that a driver named Campion is waiting to pick me up near the Harley Davidson store in the terminal, the first of many pleasant surprises.

This year has been difficult. I have wrestled with change in my business and personal relationships. A week ago I turned 40, a natural moment for both celebration and reflection. What harbingers will five days on Lake Michigan offer?
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These photographs were all shot from behind the subjects. Three of them are backlit.

In the film The Harder They Come a character uses the exclamation, “[B]ackside!” to express surprise at seeing Jimmy Cliff’s character Ivan, a fuguitive, hanging out in a photo studio. He says it once again to close the scene. “Backside!” I’ve always wanted to say that when caught off-guard. But with the Jamaican accent. Unfortunately, bad Jamaican accents are a bit of a pet peeve, and mine is terrible. So I probably won’t ever scream, “backside!” when I’m surprised. I can take pictures of people’s backs, though. Do I get credit for that?