Rel Dowdell Changing the Game
Interview by Kam
Rel Dowdell is a
very gifted screenwriter and director. Born and raised
in Philadelphia, he received his Bachelor’s degree in
English with magna cum laude honors from Fisk University
and a Master's Degree in Film with highest distinction
from Boston University.
Dowdell’s first feature film, Train Ride, was
released to widespread critical acclaim. Produced with
independent financing, the film was acquired and
distributed by Sony Pictures in 2005 and was a
tremendous financial success. The picture starred Wood
Harris, MC Lyte, Russell Hornsby, and the late Esther
Rolle in her last performance.
was ranked as one of the best American movies that year
as cited by veteran film critic Gerald Peary of The
Boston Phoenix. It also garnered high praise in film
historian Irv Slifkin's book, “Filmadelphia: A
Celebration of a City's Movies.” And it won the honor of
"Best Feature" at the American Theatre of Harlem Film
Festival in 2005.
Rel Dowdell has been compared to John Singleton and
Spike Lee in the way that he blends urban storytelling
and suspense to tackle relevant and universal social
issues intimately intertwined with a powerful moral
message. Here, Rel discusses his new film,
the Game, a drama shot in his hometown and starring
Sean Riggs, Irma P. Hall, Tony Todd, Dennis L.A. White
and Sticky Fingaz.
Kam Williams: Hi, Rel,
thanks for the interview.
Absolutely! This is a great privilege of mine to be
interviewed by you, Mr. Williams. I have been a great
admirer of your work and writings for years. You
reviewing my film,
the Game was an
extremely significant honor for me and everyone involved
with this landmark project.
How did you come up with the idea of
I wanted to be daring and create a film with an
African-American male protagonist that combined
genres, kind of like a cross between "New Jack City" and
"Wall Street." The key was to make sure to show that the
African-American male protagonist, when given the chance
to escape his virulent, inner-city environment and
become successful, would make sure not to get engulfed
by it again, but at the same time, never lose his sense
of self and appreciate the roots from which he
originated, in order to make smart decisions in his
Kam Williams: To what extent
is the story autobiographical?
Wow! Good question. I think every screenwriter takes
pieces of him or herself and integrates it into the
fabric of some of the characters in the screenplay when
it's written. In life, you have to have street sense as
well as book sense if you're going to survive in this
world. The main character, Darrell Barnes (played by
Sean Riggs), uses spirituality and intelligence to guide
him through some of the pitfalls in his life. I can
fully relate to that. I had people pray for me
continuously during the more arduous times in my life,
just like the character of the grandmother (played by
Irma P. Hall) did for Darrell. The part about adapting
philosophies of Niccolo Machiavelli to deal with
adversities and adversaries seemed like an interesting
element to me since I had read texts such as
Machiavelli’s "The Prince" and "The Art of War" by Sun
Tzu numerous times during my academic years.
How much time did each part of the process take: the
scriptwriting, raising money, casting, screen location,
shooting, editing, and getting the final cut into
It took me about 2 years to fully develop and write the
script. After I conceived the idea for the story, I
brought a friend of mine on named Aaron Astillero who
had a lot of knowledge about the inner dealings of the
stock market and Wall Street. I wanted the story to be
accurate and authentic to what was going on at the time.
Then, after I was happy with the script, I recruited a
good friend of mine, veteran actor Tony Todd ("Candyman"
and "Final Destination") to be a part of the film. We
had met back in 2005 when my first film, "Train Ride,"
was showing at the Pan-African Film Festival in Los
Angeles. He really liked the film and said he wanted to
work with me in the future. That was a tremendous
the Game, I figured attaching someone of his caliber
would help me raise money for the film, which it
definitely did. He was a big asset to my executive
producers, Thomas Webster and Karen Isaac, because
anyone who they got interested as a potential investor,
Tony would speak to them, and even meet personally with
them. It took three years to literally raise just enough
money, complete casting, secure crew, locations, shoot,
and do post-production for the film. I had a lot of
other help from producers Alain Silver, Larry Weinberg,
and Don Schneider along the way. It then took two years
to get a final cut and then avidly seek theatrical
distribution for the film. All in all, it took seven
years from initial script to seeing the film finally on
the big screen.
Kam Williams: What was the
most challenging aspect of that filmmaking process?
Trying to cover over 21 locations (national and
international) over 3 decades of the main character's
life in only 21 days on a budget nowhere near Hollywood
standards, or for that matter, most independent film
standards nowadays. Most indies are now made in the
millions. I wanted to show that a lot can get done with
a little bit, if it’s planned and executed right. That's
where your skill as a filmmaker is greatly tested.
What is your intended audience?
Anyone who has had to struggle and overcome odds in
their lives. Anyone who hasn't had it easy in life.
Anyone who has gotten up off their death bed
through someone's ardent prayer and been thankful to God
for another chance in life. If you haven't had to
overcome strife and hardships to get to where you are
today, this film may be like a foreign film with no
subtitles to you.
What message do you want people to take away from the
That life is a constant game of tests and struggles.
Just when you think you're in the clear, even tougher
tests are ahead. Your opposition adapts to you just like
you adapt to it. Some tests you are going to win, and
some you are going to lose. However, with true faith,
you will have a chance to get back in the game and win
when facing the final and most consequential test to
keep your soul intact.
Kam Williams: Who is your
Rel Dowdell: Alfred
Kam Williams: What’s your
Rel Dowdell: Bugsy Malone
Kam Williams: Have you
started to think about your next film?
It's just starting to come to me, Mr. Williams. After
seven years of stress and strife to get this film
released, I am finally feeling a sense of completion. I
do have a wonderful idea in a completely different genre
that I know would be a smash hit film if the right
people got behind it.
Who would you like to star in it?
I am one who loves to give the next great talent a
break. I gave Wood Harris his first lead role in
Train Ride. I had no doubt he could pull in off for
an instant. Same goes for Sean Riggs in
the Game. I feel he has the potential to be the next Denzel
Washington, who I hold in the highest regard as a real
thespian. As a filmmaker, having the vision to say you
helped to discover a breakout new talent is a great
Kam Williams: Is there any
question no one ever asks you, that you wish someone
On a date, would I ever bungee jump, hang glide, or go
sky diving? The answer is a resounding "No!" However, I
must admit, I think that "Point Break" is one of the
coolest movies ever made, and that scene where they go
skydiving is exhilarating. I couldn't ever do it. I may
try surfing, though. It looked like an incredible
experience when Lori Petty was schooling Keanu Reeves on
it in the film.
Kam Williams: The Tasha
Smith question: Are you ever afraid?
Rel Dowdell: Definitely.
Afraid of not trying.
Kam Williams: The Columbus
Short question: Are you happy?
RD: Definitely. For
my family to see me reach my lifelong goal of making
films after sacrificing so much of their own personal
resources and time to get me to this point gives me a
feeling of tremendous elation and satisfaction.
The Teri Emerson question: When was the last time you
had a good laugh?
Mr. Williams, someone sent me a youtube clip of a news
reporter from Augusta who had perfect speech and diction
in his report until a fly flew into his mouth. After
that, dude turned straight hood yelling every expletive
in the book. That was one funny clip. I still watch it
from time to time.
Kam Williams: What is your
Rel Dowdell: Watching
marathons of "Unsung" on TV-One.
Kam Williams: The bookworm
Troy Johnson question: What was the last book you read?
Words of Wisdom by Reverend Run. I was a big
"Run's House" fan when it was on TV.
Kam Williams: The music
maven Heather Covington question: What music have you
been listening to lately?
Rel Dowdell: "When You're
Near" by Guru from
Jazzmatazz, Volume 1 and
Buck ‘em Down by Black Moon. Classics!
Kam Williams: What is your
favorite dish to cook?
Rel Dowdell: I can't cook
very well! But I try, and usually burn something new
Kam Williams: The Sanaa
Lathan question: What excites you?
Hoping one day African-Americans will pull together in
the film industry like The Harlem Renaissance did back
in the day, and help and create opportunities for one
another. There's room for everyone to succeed if more of
us would just give back. Fortunately, there are now some
prominent African-Americans in the industry to try and
do such things. Small risks can often pay big rewards.
Dante Lee, author of "Black Business Secrets,” asks:
What was the best business decision you ever made, and
what was the worst?
The best business decision I made was to learn the craft
of screenwriting and filmmaking in an academic
environment because you need to learn all the nuances of
the craft before embarking on making a film, especially
an independent one where the margin of error is
magnified exponentially. If you don't learn the proper
way to make films early, you'll pay for that mistake
later on when opportunity comes. The worst business
decision I made was not signing a back-end deal on my
first film, "Train Ride." That film made a killing on
DVD and rentals. The filmmaker should be rewarded for
his or her efforts, which I was not.
Kam Williams: When you look
in the mirror, what do you see?
Rel Dowdell: Someone who
never gives up.
Kam Williams: If you could
have one wish instantly granted, what would that be for?
Rel Dowdell: My back end
money for "Train Ride." “Show me the money!” like Rod
Tidwell said in "Jerry Maguire."
Kam Williams: The Ling-Ju
Yen question: What is your earliest childhood memory?
One of my uncles couldn't believe I could read at a very
young age, so he pulled out a love letter he wrote to a
girlfriend thinking I couldn't read it. When I started
to read it and got to the good parts, he snatched it
Kam Williams: The Kerry
Washington question: If you were an animal, what animal
would you be?
Rel Dowdell: Probably a
dolphin, because they can plan ahead and communicate in
very efficient ways.
Kam Williams: The Pastor
Alex Kendrick question: When do you feel the most
At home before I go to bed. I try to get everything done
every day so when it's time to turn in, I can relax and
The Toure question: Who is the person who led you to
become the person you are today?
Good question. I have to give credit to two people, not
one, because they both have different but very
beneficial qualities that gave me a very strong
foundation, and that is both of my parents.
The Judyth Piazza question: What key quality do you
believe all successful people share?
What advice do you have for anyone who wants to follow
in your footsteps?
Learn the craft of filmmaking like it's a science, not a
hobby. Take it very seriously. Know that others that
paved the way before you have done it better than you
and give them respect. When you do that, you can create
your own voice.
Kam Williams: The Tavis
Smiley question: How do you want to be remembered?
As a filmmaker who wasn't afraid to take risks, combine
genres, and look at the African-American experience in
film not just as the African-American experience, but
as the human experience. It gives me a strong sense of
pride looking at the diversity I integrated into the
fabric of the cast of this film.
Thanks again for the time, Rel, and best of luck with
Thanks so much again, Mr. Williams, for taking the time
to interview me and for your review of
the Game! If anyone doesn't get the chance to see the film
in the theaters, make sure you look out for the DVD on
August 28th. And please, no bootleg!Bootlegging hurts
the potential success of African-American films worst of
the Game (YouTube)
* * *
* * *
The Predator State: How Conservatives
Abandoned the Free Market, and Why Liberals
James K. Galbraith
Galbraith, noted economist and son of the
John Kenneth Galbraith, offers his views on the gap
between conservative ideology and its use
and abuse to cover up the George W. Bush
administration’s Predator State, which takes
advantage of the public sector and
undermines public institutions for private
profit. Galbraith reports that although most
academics have abandoned conservative
principles such as free trade, deregulation,
and tax cuts for the wealthy, politicians
from both parties continue to advance
policies that, in reality, have turned
regulatory agencies over to business
lobbies, allowed the subprime mortgage
foreclosures and banking crisis, and created
Medicare’s drug plan, which legislates
monopoly pricing for drug companies.
* * *
A Life of Reinvention
in the making-the definitive biography of
the legendary black activist.
Of the great figure in twentieth-century
American history perhaps none is more
complex and controversial than Malcolm X.
Constantly rewriting his own story, he
became a criminal, a minister, a leader, and
an icon, all before being felled by
assassins' bullets at age thirty-nine.
Through his tireless work and countless
speeches he empowered hundreds of thousands
of black Americans to create better lives
and stronger communities while establishing
the template for the self-actualized,
independent African American man. In death
he became a broad symbol of both resistance
and reconciliation for millions around the
new biography of Malcolm is a stunning achievement.
Filled with new information and shocking revelations
that go beyond the Autobiography, Malcolm X unfolds a
sweeping story of race and class in America, from the
rise of Marcus Garvey and the Ku Klux Klan to the
struggles of the civil rights movement in the fifties
Malcolm's troubled youth, it traces a path from his
parents' activism through his own engagement with the
Nation of Islam, charting his astronomical rise in the
world of Black Nationalism and culminating in the
never-before-told true story of his assassination.
Malcolm X will stand as the definitive work on one of
the most singular forces for social change, capturing
with revelatory clarity a man who constantly strove, in
the great American tradition, to remake himself anew.
* * *
Words of Wisdom: Daily Affirmations of Faith
Words of Wisdom is a collection of
inspirational aphorisms, which Rev Run sends
out to his closest friends each day and
which were made suddenly popular when his
television show zoomed to the top of the MTV
charts. Rev Run (an ordained minister)
closes each episode of Run's House by
reading philosophical, Christian, and
inspirational books in the bathtub before
penning words that inspire, encourage, and
motivate. Here, available for the first time
to the public, are Run's
Words of Wisdom published in a gifty
yet affordable format just in time for the
show's second season: All great blessings
come from being at peace. When the day is
over, go to sleep. Never sit up worrying
about tomorrow. Work hard and let God do the
rest. I always say these words at night: "I
can sleep tonight because God is awake!"
Relax. Rest easy. Focus, Focus, Focus! You
will only have significant success with
something that is an obsession. Success
comes from having passion and having fun
creating your objective!
* * * * *
Andrew Johnson: The 17th President,
By Annette Gordon-Reed
Andrew Johnson, the seventeenth man to
ascend to the highest office in the
land, is generally regarded by
historians as among the weakest
presidents. Gordon-Reed has no intention
of moving Johnson up in rank (“America
went from the best to the worst in one
presidential term,” she corroborates).
So this is no reputation rescue.
Gordon-Reed, author of The Hemingses
of Monticello: An American Family
(2008), which won the Pulitzer Prize and
the National Book Award, takes as her
task explaining why we should look anew
at such a disastrous chief executive.
She reasons he is worth looking at,
though her reasoning yields a far from
sympathetic look. In a short biography,
all bases can be covered, but the author
is still left to exercise the tone of a
personal essay, which this author
accomplishes brilliantly. Her personal
take on Johnson is that his inability to
remake the country after it was torn
apart rested on his deplorable view of
practical terms, his failure derived from his
stubborn refusal to compromise with Congress in the
abiding post-Lincoln controversy over who was to
supervise the Reconstruction, the executive or the
legislative branch. A failure, yes, but more than
that, a failure at an extremely critical time in
* * * * *
Aké: The Years of Childhood
Aké: The Years of Childhood is a
memoir of stunning beauty, humor, and
lyrical account of one boy's attempt to
grasp the often irrational and hypocritical
world of adults that equally repels and
seduces him. Soyinka elevates brief
anecdotes into history lessons,
conversations into morality plays, memories
into awakenings. Various cultures,
religions, and languages mingled freely in
the Aké of his youth, fostering endless
contradictions and personalized hybrids,
particularly when it comes to religion.
Christian teachings, the wisdom of the
ogboni, or ruling elders, and the power of
alternately terrify and inspire him
carried equal metaphysical weight.
Surrounded by such a collage, he notes that
"God had a habit of either not answering
one's prayers at all, or answering them in a
way that was not straightforward."
In writing from a child's perspective,
Soyinka expresses youthful idealism and
unfiltered honesty while escaping the adult
snares of cynicism and intolerance. His
stinging indictment of colonialism takes on
added power owing to the elegance of his
* * * * *
The White Masters of the
The World and Africa, 1965
By W. E. B. Du Bois
W. E. B. Du Bois’
Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization
* * *
Ancient African Nations
* * * * *
If you like this page consider making a donation
* * * * *
Negro Digest /
Browse all issues
* * * * *
The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan
The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll
Only a Pawn in Their Game
Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for
George Jackson /
* * *
The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg
Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804
January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of
* * * * *
* * * *
(Books, DVDs, Music, and more)
posted 2 July 2012