After watching Lonnie Holley: The Truth of The Dirt by Marco Williams, Kojo by Michael Fequiere, and He Who Dances on Wood by Jessica Beshir on January 22, 2018 (8pm EST), as part of season 10 of AfroPop: The Ultimate Cultural Exchange, you may have a lot of questions and thoughts about the film’s key issues. Here is the background on the film and some discussion prompts for engaging audience members. For more prompts, historical context, and resources for those seeking additional information, you can download the complete guide to the shorts program here.
Lonnie Holley: The Truth of the Dirt
An observed portrait, complimented by an intimate interview with the artist, Lonnie Holley: The Truth of the Dirt documents a man who sees beauty in what others step on, step over, and leave behind. A quintessential folk artist, this self-taught, African American elder, sculptor, and musical performer from Birmingham, Alabama transforms “junk, trash, garbage and debris” into art.
Kojo is a short documentary on twelve-year-old jazz drummer Kojo Odu Roney. In this candid interview, the New York City-based prodigy reflects on his tireless work ethic, the current state of jazz music, learning from his mentor and father (jazz saxophonist Antoine Roney), and much more. Kojo’s charisma, sensibility, and passion are as mesmerizing as his drum skills.
He Who Dances on Wood
This simple portrait shares the profound story of how one man’s search for joy has culminated in a constant experience of rhythm in the world around him. Every day, seventy-six year old Fred Nelson carries a weathered board into Brooklyn’s Prospect Park, places it underneath a tunnel, laces up his tap shoes and begins to dance. This is Fred’s daily prayer. As we watch him dance, we join him in his daily journey to coax the secret ecstasy and beauty of life from an old piece of wood.
Topics: age, African American, art/artist, drummer, dance/dancer, jazz, music/musician, sculpture, performance, prodigy, visual art
The People in the Films
Lonnie Holley was born in 1950 in Birmingham, Alabama. He lived a tumultuous childhood, passed between the homes of family and friends – some well-intentioned and some negligent. By the time he was twelve he landed at the Alabama Industrial School for Negro Children. It was there that he began creating his art. Injuries from a horrible beating by the white men in charge rendered him immobile. Until he could heal, his mother gave him ‘art materials’ to keep him busy. With these materials he mimicked his grandfather, a man who created things around their home from found objects. From that moment forward all sorts of materials served as Lonnie’s tools to make beauty from a cruel world.
Kojo Odu Roney sat down to play a first drum set at the age of two and has never looked back. The son of jazz saxophonist Antoine Roney and choreographer and dancer Nia Love, and the nephew of trumpeter Wallace Roney, Kojo was able to play with jazz ensembles at age 4. By the age of 8, he went on his first tour in Europe, the start of his career as a professional musician. Though barely a teenager, Kojo has shared the stage with many accomplished musicians including Buster Williams, Darrell Green, Billy Spaceman Paterson, Rashaan Carter, Brandee Younger, Saadi Zain, and Emanuel Ruffler. He has even had the chance to sit in with Lenny White, Al Foster and legendary jazz drummer, Roy Haynes, while great jazz drummers Louis Hayes and Grady Tate were in the audience. He has also been befriended by the great Jimmy Cobb. Kojo currently performs with his dad and uncle.
Fred Nelson, Jr. was born in Detroit, where he grew up loving to dance to R&B. Today he lives in Brooklyn and works night shift as a doorman at a building on the Upper East Side. Fred discovered his love of tap dancing late in life. Inspired by a challenge from his teenaged son, he donned his first pair of tap shoes in the late 1990s. He started dancing in Prospect Park in the early 2000s. When weather forced him to find shelter, he found himself dancing in the Meadowport Arch. He was enthralled by the acoustics and has been tapping there ever since, every day, sometimes for hours, practicing and searching for perfect rhythms.
MARCO WILLIAMS is an award-winning documentary filmmaker and professor of film production. For over 30 years he has made films that look at injustice and America, usually through the lens of race.
His films include Tell Them We are Rising: The Story of Black Colleges and Universities (co-directed with Stanley Nelson), The Undocumented, Banished, MLK Blvd: The Concrete Dream, Freedom Summer, I Sit Where I Want: The Legacy of Brown v. Board of Education and Two Towns of Jasper (both co-directed with Whitney Dow), The Black Fives, Inside the New Black Panthers, Making Peace: Rebuilding our Communities, The Spiritual Deficit and The American Dream, In Search of Our Fathers, and From Harlem to Harvard. He has been nominated three times for the Sundance Film Festival grand jury prize.
Williams received a B.A. from Harvard University, in Visual and Environmental Studies. He received a Master of Arts degree from UCLA in Afro-American Studies and a Master of Fine Arts also from UCLA in their Producer’s Program.
MICHAEL FEQUIERE is a Brooklyn based filmmaker. His 2009 City College of New York thesis film, Faux Pas, won best directing and best editing at the CCNY student film festival and also screened at the Big Apple Film Festival and the Cannes Film Festival’s Short Film Corner. In 2011 he directed a short sc-fi thriller, Traum, and in 2013 directed Austrian body-painter Neil Curtis in the provocative short documentary Replace Clothes with Paint.
JESSICA BESHIR is an award-winning Mexican-Ethiopian writer and director based in Brooklyn. Her first short film, Hairat, premiered at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival and has screened at festivals worldwide. Her most recent short film, Heroin, premiered at the TriBeCa film festival. Beshir is currently developing her debut feature film.
Was there anything in the films that “spoke truth” to you?
If you were going to tell a friend about these films, what would you say?
Describe a moment in one of the films that you found particularly moving. What was it about that scene that was especially compelling?
In a word, what’s your initial reaction to these films? How did they make you feel?
What did you learn from these films about art/music/dance or artists/musicians/dancers?
Did you see anything in the films that was familiar? What do you have in common with Fred, Lonnie, or Kojo?