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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According to the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons, the Achilles tendon can withstand more than 1000 pounds of pressure. On June 10th, 2019, the Achilles tendon of basketball star Kevin Durant snapped during game 5 of the NBA finals. I believe that the Internet snapped it, a month after it took down another colossus, HBO’s Game of Thrones.

In the 20th century the two biggest crashes in our collective memory were the Hindenburg and the Titanic. A potent stew of hubris, mechanical failure, and bad luck doomed both enterprises. The two largest collapses in the 2010s were cultural: the Golden State Warriors hegemony in basketball, and Game of Thrones, a television program whose final season is as memorable for the viral petition demanding it be re-written as for the fate of the Iron Throne.

In both cases, though the familiar swirl of hubris and bad luck played their component parts, it was the Internet that pushed the two juggernauts over the edge. Durant, known off the court as a tech afficianado and investor, was eventually outed for keeping at least 5 “burner” acccounts on social media that he used to fight back against the haters. Game of Thrones showrunners David Benioff and D.B. Weiss keep relatively low profiles, but the maelstrom of attention surrounding the show became impossible to avoid – nearly every major publication dedicated a writer to cover it, most expanded coverage to include multiple writers, chats, “precaps,” etc.

The twin phenomena of the Golden State Warriors and Thrones were fueled by technology. In a March 2016 profile for the New York Times Magazine, Joe Lacob, Warriors co-owner and famed venture capitalist, claimed that his team was “light years ahead” of the competition due to its newfangled, tech-aided understanding of the game. Indeed, the Warriors won three out of five NBA championships to end the 2010s. Similarly, Thrones, which started with a niche fanbase, became a pop sensation in part because of the viral success of YouTube reaction videos to the infamous Red Wedding scene in season 3.

But it was the cacophony of social media pressuring Durant to play when he was hurt, pressuring the Thrones writers into “fan service” that ultimately undid years of work that had gone into the mastery of their respective crafts. Durant, sidelined while recovering from his Achilles rupture, has resumed lashing back at online critics, this time under his own name. The Warriors are in last place without him. Benioff and Weiss had an in-development HBO series and Star Wars trilogy cancelled in the aftermath to the Thrones finale. Soon enough both the player and writers will be back in our collective consciousness, no doubt changed by their ride at what Durant once termed, “the top of things.”

The ephemeral bytes that make up each tweeted insult and jab can, in their aggregate form, amass actual weight in the physical world. At least a thousand pounds.


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This film documents the installation of Into the Woods, which was created for the International Garden Festival at Domaine Chaumont-sur-Loire. In making the film I asked design principals Matt Donham and Phoebe Lickwar to voice their creative choices in building it, and some of the larger ideas at play in the field of landscape architecture. Last, I wanted the film to feel like an exchange with the garden, which unfolds to a visitor in its own time.


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There was a controversy at my bodega this morning that escalated into a shouting match. A Jamaican man was making a fresh pot of coffee and blocking access to the machine while myself and another customer, a Mexican, stood waiting, even though a fresh pot sat ready on the other burner. The Jamaican paced back and forth as he prepared the pot, loose limbs flying in every direction, muttering under his breath. The Mexican and I, apparently, had no choice but to stand by and let the chef cook.

The Jamaican had an unorthodox method of preparing the filter and one of the Yemeni men who runs the joint stepped in to hurry the proceedings along. The Jamaican took offense. Choruses of “let me do this,” and “my way is better,” wrinkled the morning calm. When he said, “I pay money,” what had been a small kerfuffle mushroomed into a referendum on capitalism.

“This is America. Everybody pays money,” said the Yemeni. The argument lost its thread as everyone seemed to be saying the same thing, only louder – “I pay money. You pay money. Everybody makes money.” To this dead end the Jamaican added the turn, “I don’t always make money.”

The Jamaican started towards the counter as the coffee pot had finally been wrested from his hands. Fresh brown elixir splashed down into the empty vessel from the spout. By this time the Yemeni working the front had joined the fray, not as loud as his brother but granted special gravitas given his authority over the cash register. “You only pay fifty cents for coffee,” he said, “sometimes you don’t even pay.” I stood in line waiting to pay a full dollar for my cup as the Jamaican exited the shop, stage right. “I pay for my coffee,” he said, “I pay.”


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Last night a film I directed and have been working on for the past six months aired on national television. It plays at an hour with commercials but premiered at its festival length of 43 minutes at ABFF this past weekend. I am quite pleased with how it turned out, thank you very much. You can see it online in its entirety here.


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I’ve always wanted to be sponsored by a camera company and over the past year it happened. Kinefinity, the manufacturer of the cinema camera I bought last year, took such a keen interest in the footage that I created with it that they let me take their flagship camera out for a spin to help launch it into the world.

The sci-fi genre is close to my heart. And this project gave me the opportunity to write down a bunch of crazy ideas. In science fiction, philosophical questions about the world swim a bit closer to the surface than I’m used to as a writer. Re/Connections dabbles in tones and themes I haven’t worked with much. I built props and designed effects. And while I’m proud of the resulting film, I also know that this is a first step. I’m excited to figure out where to step next.


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FOSTER AVE.

The regal woman waiting for the bus slowed me down. Her calm, that light. I felt lucky to have shot something I liked so much but couldn’t figure out how to write about it here and so I waited. That was January.

Because it’s rare for me to walk down that block I didn’t notice they’d torn up the street until September, and was sad to see such a peaceful little perch destroyed. I wrote a short thing about the ephemeral nature of things and how blah blah whatever. But that wasn’t what I wanted to say either and so I deleted the post a couple minutes later.

Now the street is fixed up like new and I still don’t know what to say. Other than thank you. To her, I guess, and to you.

I shot that one on New Years Day and it has been something of a talisman for me all year. The homie pushing that Crown Vic is FOCUSED, COMMITTED, and READY for whatever’s next out here on these mean streets. Just looking at him lifts me up.

So here’s a little reminder to hit whatever’s coming as hard as my man is about to hit that gas pedal. Because this moment, right now, is a gift. With everything so crazy all the time it’s hard to see it that way sometimes. These burdens don’t lift themselves, after all. Just know that I’m pulling for you as hard as I’m pulling for myself. There’s even a few seats available in the whip. One love.


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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.

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.

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.