Tune in Saturday 11 February at 3pm to Work x Work on air. I’ll be moderating a talk called Blurred Colors in the City.
I’m excited to be joined by the photographer Andre D. Wagner, and Executive Director of Audio for Fusion Mandana Mofidi. The hour will explore issues of race and cultural diversity in documenting our cities. Stream here. Or, better yet, come by the Wythe Hotel to hear the talk Live.
We in the same picture but we all got different poses.”
A few months ago The Municipal Art Society of New York, a client, sent me abroad to capture the stories of leading urbanists Dr. Joan Clos and PK Das. A former mayor of Barcelona, Dr. Clos is now an Undersecretary at the UN and Executive Director of UN Habitat; Mr. Das is an eminent architect in Mumbai renowned for the unique intersection of design and activism in his work. And though I’m very pleased with how the videos came out, what follows is a personal journey through their cities.
The trip to Mumbai came first, and within the first two days I had filmed scenes in luxury condominiums and in the slums. A six-story billboard of Donald Trump loomed above the site of a future development. Heavy, omnipresent traffic served notice of the sheer size of a population I would see in mere slices but feel intuitively like the temperature. One might need to spend a month there to have an exchange with the place. Instead, the five days felt more like standing in front of a firehose of cultural content: images, smells, tastes, language. These few photos are inadequate, yet the only evidence I can submit.
I spent less than a day in London: coffee and drinks with a friend, made a new one, conducted two interviews, and flew out to BCN before dinner.
Unknown to the client, however, was the fact that I’d spent a year of my life in Barcelona during another era.
Visiting neighborhoods I hadn’t seen in more than twenty years brought out a special emotion: at times it felt like a visit with a former self. My Spanish has faded considerably. I no longer wear the cloak of the invincibility that wrapped my teenaged shoulders like a birthright. More like invisibility – gone are the dyed-orange dreadlocks, the boundless enthusiasm, the certainty that my moment is at hand.
There were things I hadn’t considered as a teen: the number and quality of public spaces in Barcelona is incomparable to most American cities. Art suffuses the place. The scale of the built environment is relentlessly humanistic.
I was struck that the passage of time has affected me more than the place. City blocks, though changed, were recognizable but who would recognize me? And yet.
The things I learned in that place, at that age, carry forward. The opportunity to live abroad – the challenges of moving through a foreign, and at times hostile context – helped to build a store of resilience that I depend on in this career as creative professional. The color of the Mediterranean light is a treat in itself, to be bathed in it daily is a reward all should experience. To experience it again, a gift. And in that city I observe a way of carrying oneself with confidence, with lightness, with purpose – tools for everyday living.
There are more lessons, of course. But I’m not able to grasp them yet. I will return.
I recently appeared on the podcast Filmwax Radio. And while I’ve appeared in media before, this one felt a bit like a rite of passage. Any New York filmmaker of note has appeared on it over the years and I’ve listened to many episodes. Adam’s cat sat in my lap for a few minutes as I listened to Jen Ponton, the guest who appeared before me. If there’s a family of filmmakers in the city, Filmwax felt like the living room.
A few months ago I also appeared on Handful of Wheel, a podcast that delves into what it means to live as a creative. Uniquely, the episodes are recorded by Maura and Haele while driving in a minivan, with the idea that the familiarity of riding in a vehicle might infuse the conversation with both comfort and serendipity. I can confirm that it does and had one of my favorite conversations ever about my work from the shotgun seat.
The aforelinked Work x Work interview was recorded in a wood-paneled room full of art books. In that room, and Scott’s presence, I felt invited to talk about creativity in very specific ways – to imagine myself as part of a larger continuum of workers and voices.
Having grown up in a home where both parents worked in public radio, and hosted a college radio show for years, it’s fun to participate in these new audio media. Still can’t get used to the sound of my voice, though.
The Urbanworld Film Festival was the first stop in five weeks of madness. Five weeks without a day off. Five weeks of incremental, unrelenting stress. It was also the New York premiere of my film “72 Hours: a Brooklyn Love Story?” The opening night party was held high above the city and led off with a plaintive wail as trumpeter Keyon Harrold soloed through a moving set that he dedicated to Black Lives Matter. I found myself thinking, “what other festival would start like this?!” There’s a special satisfaction in knowing you’re in the place to be. That feeling would continue for the next few days.
Playing 72 HOURS in New York brought a strange apprehension. On the one hand: I’m proud of the film, think it plays well for audiences, and genuinely enjoy seeing it in front of different crowds. On the other: this is New York. My adopted home town. To be rejected here would feel personal on a level I might not be ready to accept.
Cast-and-crew, friends-and-family attended the screening, of course, but the house was packed by people who had no connection to the production at all. And… [exhale] the film played great. We got the couple laughs we expected, and I could feel the audience engagement slowly ratchet upwards as the person next to me stopped eating popcorn, eventually moved the popcorn to her knee, then finally set the popcorn bag on the floor during a pivotal scene.
Afterwards, friends who can be reserved in their praise were effusive, and friends who can be counted on for full puffery didn’t hold back either. We even got a nice review.
But the festival was more than just our screening. Urbanworld has been fixed in my head for years as a place where black and brown films can play to like-minded audiences. And this year was the festival’s 20th anniversary. Rousing speeches by festival director Gabrielle Glore, founder Stacey Spikes, and filmmaker Ava Duvernay at the awards ceremony pointed to the mission of Urbanworld: to spotlight the works of black and POC filmmakers, on a big stage, while in direct conversation with the audiences who will support our careers. I was spent, happy, and proud, all at once. I want to come back.
Scout Tafoya, the author of the linked article, and film essayist at large, approached after our screening at the BlackStar Film Festival to congratulate me on making a “fucking awesome film.” That made me happy. Here’s an interview with me and a passage from his review of the film:
Not only is Rivero an exciting, intelligent new director with plenty to say about art and life, his filmmaking is impossibly beautiful, raw and honest. 72 Hours is tender and loving but never plays down the ugliness of life in impoverished Brooklyn. The way he captures the streets is splendidly empathetic, even as he uncovers the darkest things hiding in the cold night.
— Raafi Rivero (@raafirivero) August 4, 2016
What I loved about BlackStar was that there were no velvet ropes. The demarcations between filmmakers, panelists, and audience members were virtually nonexistent. More than once I witnessed a panelist reference another august filmmaker only to have that person be sitting in the audience. The quality of discussion during Q&As and in the lobby afterwards was truly outstanding. I hope to return.
Flying out to LA I knew one thing was certain, I would return a changed person – baptized by the fact that I could now, officially, call myself a feature filmmaker. The festival itself was 9 days, but I stayed in LA for just over two weeks, saw at least 14 movies, and talked myself dry. Moments that I didn’t capture were just as good as the ones below, nor do the ones included actually “say” all that much, but the experience, for me, was singular and these are the images that describe it.
Though you always imagine music being written and placed into your film, one of the things I hadn’t pictured at the start of this process was standing in a room while the cellist and composer record the music. Pictured, Alexandre “Diesel” Varela and Kristine Kruta, who wrote and performed our original score in a whirlwind session just days before I left for the LA Film Festival.
Here’s an article in The Hollywood Reporter about my film, 72 Hours: a Brooklyn Love Story?. In it I talk a bit about the process of adapting a short documentary into a narrative feature. And there’s even an exclusive clip from the film embedded in the article.
Diogenes Brito, a designer at Slack, writes about his decision to make the skin color of the Add to Slack button brown.
Why was the choice an important one, and why did it matter to the people of color who saw it? The simple answer is that they rarely see something like that. These people saw the image and immediately noticed how unusual it was. They were appreciative of being represented in a world where American media has the bad habit of portraying white people as the default, and everyone else as deviations from the norm.
Though not explicitly a companion piece, design and tech leader John Maeda’s, Did I Grow Up And Become The Yellow Hand? is the perfect pairing. Maeda plumbs the pitfalls of racial inclusion as both a tried-and-true path to greater creativity, and a later-in-life embrace of his own colored identity.
I can now, a decade later, remember how much I simply tuned it all out. I thought back then as well, “This is the way that it is.” And rely on what I had learned to be right. A simple algorithm. Don’t complain. Withstand. Don’t cause problems.
Undergirding both pieces is the tension between race and color. Though I’ve written about those same tensions, what I find refreshing is that in talking about things like the color of an Emoji icon, the discussion moves past mushy things like feelings. Ideas and politics become practical once the pixels hit the screen, so to speak. These two designers both come to the conclusion that identity is not something that can or should be wrapped into the larger wet blanket of ‘universality‘. Identity cannot be ignored. This leads to better design. And a wider gamut of ideas in the marketplace.
I’ve been waiting to say something like this for years. My first feature film, “72 Hours: a Brooklyn Love Story?” will make its World Premiere in competition at the LA Film Festival. It is a tremendous honor and I couldn’t be more proud. See the trailer here, or sign up for updates on the project at the film’s website. I’ll be updating this space regularly throughout the festival process.