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Matthew-Lee Erlbach Headshot

TriBeCa Interview: Spike Lee Doin' Work

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2009-04-29-SpikeLee.jpg
Spike Lee/ Photo by Leslie Hassler

by Matthew-Lee Erlbach
and Carmelo Larose

Spike Lee is a prolific writer, director, producer, and actor known for challenging the socio-political norms in American society. In 1986, his debut film, the independently produced comedy, She's Gotta Have It, earned him the Prix de Jeunesse Award at the Cannes Film festival and set him at the forefront of the Black New Wave in American Cinema. His work also includes Do the Right Thing, which garnered an Academy award for best screenplay, Jungle Fever, Mo' Better Blues, Crooklyn, Malcom X, Bamboozled, and many other successful films. He recently completed the Emmy and Oscar nominated documentary, 4 Little Girls, for HBO, and received an Emmy Award for his piece on Georgetown's John Thompson for HBO/Real Sports. Additionally, Spike has authored six books on the making of his films; the fifth book, Five For Five, served as a pictorial reflection of his first five features. Most recently he has authored a new book entitled Best Seat In The House with Ralph Wiley. His latest films, Kobe Doin' Work and Passing Strange are premiering this week at the 2009 TriBeCa Film Festival: www.TribecaFilm.com for more info.

What was it about Kobe Bryant that makes him a compelling figure for a documentary?

SL: He was having a great season. It looked like the Lakers would make it to the finals. It looked like they would be the champions, but they messed up against the Celtics. And he's arguably one of the two best players in the league. People are gonna get many things out of it...I want to have them engaged on that level though. You know as a filmmaker you have to pick great subjects.

How did your understanding of Kobe as a player change?

SL: It didn't change. I just gained more admiration for him and learned how rare of a player he was, how dedicated he was. He's very dedicated to the game. The film isn't a PR move. It's a documentary.

Was there anything about the content that was surprising or shocking?

SL: We didn't know what we were going to get, but that's one of the best things about sports documentaries, is that they are in no way scripted. You roll with it.

Is documentary film making for you much different than your work in fiction?

SL: They're different, but the goal is the same, which is to tell a story. I never try to lose sight of that, the telling of the story.

Do you see a resurgence or an increase in independent black film in the near future?

SL: I saw a film at Sundance which I'm a big fan of, Black Dynamite, which will be here at TriBeCa. Scott Sanders it the Director, he co-wrote it with Michael Jai White, which I thought was very good. I'm also really happy with Passing Strange. Make sure to see that. It's funny as hell. It's hilarious. I wouldn't say that the films I make are stories told just to Black America. I think they're stories being told to everyone, like When the Levees Broke. Hip hop culture will still be relevant. It always has and there will be stories told from the rest of the world as well, the Caribbean, Africa. Etc. I'm looking forward to that.