Interview Issue 2017 | Interviews | Stage & Screen

A New Lens on Life

Reginald Rice on tracing a path through filmmaking

Bridget Vaughn

I was a dissenter. I retaliated against a lot of things, but more so I retaliated against the way people tried to color the world for me. I questioned, and I didn’t realize until I got older that I was always questioning why things have to be the way they are. I was deeply invested in my imagination, and cinema was that environment that sort of told me: you can create, these ideas can come out of you and unfold, and you can create the reality that you want through this particular medium.

Reginald Rice—he goes by Reggie—is a thirty-three-year-old documentary filmmaker. In 2016, he participated in Kartemquin Film’s Diverse Voices in Docs, a professional development program for emerging documentary filmmakers of color. He recently created a short film on 57th Street Wines, and he is finishing up Tracing Our Path Through Bronzeville, a feature-length documentary highlighting cultural institutions and artists in Bronzeville.

I grew up on the South Side of Chicago, in the Englewood area. My mother and father, they took me and my brothers to the show [cinema] just about every weekend, especially in the summer. I began to take a liking to film, but more so storytelling—the storytelling art form interested me the most.

Even today people say bad things about Englewood. They don’t understand that it’s just various pockets of environments where bad things happen. It’s not everywhere, like, violence is not everywhere. With the imagination that I had, I created Englewood out of something beautiful. The elders that lived in my community—their stories were like movies to me. Even my parents! There were times when my mother would pull out the box of family pictures, and she would tell stories about our family and experiences, and I would see these stories visually. It was almost like sitting around a fire, having that storytime experience. So that was, that was dope.

I went away to college and actually my concentration was Philosophy and History, [which] really gave me the substance to write and to create, to see visually. Boteus, Plato, Seneca—you had these individuals who were almost persecuted for thinking differently, seeing the world differently. They understood that, “Okay, my reality is not what I want it to be, but I can create my reality. I might be confined within a circle to be able to think, but I’ll influence my reality through generations.”

But I think the most critical time when I decided that I was going to go into film was in 2010. I went to Egypt, studied abroad for the summer. I was so surprised that a lot of the information I read in books in undergrad didn’t really portray the experience that I got there. I think that ethics in that space was more valued and appreciated than possessing material objects, which really put me in awe. I mean, the hospitality was amazing.

Before I went, a lot of people were like, oh don’t go over there. I was like—I come from Englewood, it can’t be that bad. I think that when you’re from a place, or when you see a place for yourself and you really go in without judging, you get the full experience. I knew people who never went to Englewood and then they go and they’re like, “Oh, it’s just everyday people doing everyday things.” I mean, you have your bad, but there’s a lot of good. That’s what I found in Egypt.

So that’s when I was like, I’m going to be a documentary filmmaker. You know, I’m going to get my camera, I’m going to take these classes, and I’m going to try to pursue this.

After a long pause in the conversation, he looks up through his black, thick-rimmed glasses and chuckles. “I’m sorry, it’s hard to talk about myself. I mean, it’s easy to talk about film and all of the things I enjoy…”

I started the Bronzeville documentary. I came out of pocket to finance this. Sometimes I didn’t have any way to commute but through public transportation, so I would have all my equipment and I would get on the CTA bus and people would be like—what are you… you must be doing something. And I would get to these places and sometimes my camera wouldn’t work, sometimes I would forget a significant piece that I needed. But I made it to this point.

The story of Tracing Our Path Through Bronzeville primarily begins with: what does it mean to tell a story? We have people who come in, and they just wanna shoot a movie, but they don’t really investigate what it’s really like to be an artist. Initially I didn’t paint, but I started painting because I had to understand what it was like.

[When painting,] sometimes you can be like “here’s a mistake I made,” but somehow it works its way into the picture. I’ve taken advice from the artists, and they say: “It’s all jazz. After layer on top of layer on top of layer, you find…synthesis, you find your image.” The painting gave me insight on this esoteric aspect. It’s like, are you controlling this paintbrush or is there something beyond you that’s dictating how you lay that paint on?

When you begin a film, you have it on paper. What you have written down is guidelines, but the film becomes a living being in itself, and you have to cooperate. If you go against it, sometimes you don’t get the best results, but if you allow the film to unfold and sort of feel your way through, it’s like the story grab you by the hand and say: “This is what it gonna be.”

I try not to do what everybody else is doing. When you get a camera, it’s fun to just get out and shoot things. But if you really want to include the storytelling art form, I wanna do things that are true to what I desire to do, and that’s to tell stories that are rarely shared.

I met Derrick Westbrook, the sommelier at 57th Street Wines. You don’t have a lot of black guys who are wine connoisseurs—it shocked the hell out of me! I was like, Thank god, here we are, we had an opportunity that barely gets told.

[Since doing film], I learned how to see differently. I take walks, or whenever I’m out, I look up, because I feel like once upon a time, I didn’t look up enough. I’ve learned to look past people’s flaws and really listen to them. I’ll give you an example: when I was growing up, there were some drug addicts, some drunks in the corner, and you would be like: “Why are these people here?” And then you’ll see them with a Vietnam War hat on one day, and you’re like: “These are these vets!” Everyone seems to have—at least the people I’ve crossed paths with—a purpose for where they are.

I think my motivation is to expose people, to break people’s lens away from the traditional or common narrative. I think that’s what documentary film is about. It’s about dismantling cultural barriers and exposing people to preserve aspects of life that humanize us. I feel like we have a lot of political documentaries out there, about social activism, but I don’t think there are enough documentaries that are like: after we protest, after we come to work, we should remember to enjoy life.

If something is really working on your spirit, time and the environment that you’re occupying become irrelevant, and you engage. That’s what art does. It’s almost like medication.

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