AN INTERVIEW WITH WOOLFMAN, CO-DIRECTOR OF "MAKE AMERICA LOVE AGAIN"
Winner: Best Cause-Driven Film & Best Song - March 2021 Edition
Hello Mr Woolfman, thank you for sitting with us. We'd love to know more about you.
Can you tell us of how you came to the cinema?
I have been a cinema fan all my life. Some favourite films include "Blue Velvet", "The Paths of Glory" and more recently "Queen and Slim". "Blue Velvet" or anything by David Lynch explores the dark underside of our existence. It harks back to Dali and brings us face to face with our demons in a polarized world…
"Paths of Glory" is a film about the cowardice, lies and hypocrisy of many of our leaders. It is painfully relevant in the era of (thankfully post) Trump. "Queen and Slim" is painful, it is both personal and political, a quintessential road movie, a modern "Thelma and Louise" rooted in the tragedies that seem to take place every day on American streets. The stories of lives wasted for no reason except the colour of your skin or your place of birth. Memory and legacy become important weapons in the fight for equality.
"Black people are sometimes more celebrated in death than in life... That's why I feel like we could not let the people who have passed — the Sandra Blands and Eric Garners — die in vain", the director Melina Matsoukas said.
These films all embody the personal and the political, they are all humanistic, challenging and inspiring. Maybe that is my theme.
Now, about "Make America Love Again": How did you come to be the Songwriter for the video?
I have been writing, playing and producing all my adult life. The urge to create music has consumed me and led me up mountains and I have fallen into many an abyss. I had been making dance music for a few years with some success, then... from my home in London in 2018, I watched Spike Lee on TV, I was moved and I was shocked.
America has suffered and is suffering these days. I realised that I wanted to do something, because what happens in America affects us in the UK, in Europe, in Africa, Asia and the whole of the world.
That night at 3am I awoke with a lyric and a tune in my head. I went to my piano in my night clothes, I waited, the tune, the white and the black notes came as if from outside myself.
As I waited the words emerged, all at once, as if I already knew them. I didn’t have to think, I felt like a channel between the infinite and the tangible. Many songwriters and artists talk about this extraordinary moment when inspiration appears apparently out of nowhere, when creation seems effortless. This was my experience that night.
These moments are not isolated , they are grounded, they are the culmination of many years of experiences, feelings, musical activity and reflection about politics and the world. There is sometimes a moment in life when everything comes together, when purpose and meaning merge – forming something new and unexpected: the unknown becomes the known, dark matter becomes visible. I cannot escape the significance of this moment.
This project has taken over my life and the others in the team for the last two years.
You are the initiator of this project and decided to team up with Tone Davies as co-Director. What's the rest of the story behind this collaboration?
Tone started off focused on our early videos. As the project developed we collaborated more and more on each production and it became clear to me that Tones skillset and vision complemented my ideas and the project very well - more importantly we seem to view art - and life - from a similar perspective. He is now an essential part of this project and brings a knowledge and understanding of film and cinematography that fills a huge gap in my knowledge.
In the overview, we find out that the video was shot "on phones during lockdown".
Can you tell us more about the actual shoot, about the process? How did you create the images, how did you put it all together? For example, what's the significance of the screens, the way you staged them, from the old battered TVs to the "zoom-like" screen construction?
I’d booked a DOP, a green screen - and had the singers ready. We were set to film - and Tone to edit. The same week, Lockdown was announced and everything paused. I feared the project might be over - no video - no release!
Soon after - Tone had an idea - and announced a new concept for the video. We were all looking at life through a screen the world over - the pandemic had forced solitude on so many - we drew on the feeling and imagery of American artist Edward Hopper for inspiration - and used a series of TV’s as windows through which we gaze from our isolated environments.
The singers graciously filmed ‘selfie’ verses and choruses which we dropped into a series of curated TV sets - at first we had LED flatscreens and super hi-tech set ups included in the assembly edit - but it didn’t feel quite right, so we settled on retro sets which we felt complemented the songs moral heritage. (although there is one contemporary TV in the cut - did you spot it?) Everything was tied together in Photoshop and FCPX - the video has done incredibly well - sometimes it just takes a reset in your planning to provide you with a better path to take…
The song is an outcry, it's also tagged as "Anthem for the future". How was your vision born and what was your intention?
I have felt powerless the last few years watching events in the USA, the UK, Russia, China and across the world. My heartfelt belief is that most people are good and can be appealed to, can be united.
I am a political animal and want to play my part - so hearing Spike Lee that day in 2018 gave me a path, an opportunity to play my part through music. As I sat at the piano on that dark October night, I knew this song had to sit harmonically in the gospel tradition.
Bill Clinton once said :
"There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America”…This applies to every country and every person.
My way of making a difference is through music and lyrics. Music moves hearts!
We can help to put out the terrible fire that is burning not only in the USA but across the world at this time. "Make America Love Again" is the song to heal all our souls in 2021 and beyond.
This song is I believe in the best tradition of political gospel, of protest and of optimism.
We seek justice, decency and kindness. We would like to live in peace, without fear just because of who we are, our beliefs or the colour of our skin.
Together we can make a lot of noise! We can overcome, we can speak to all of humanity, we speak to your humanity. Your voice and your spirit counts for everything.
Spike Lee said "Let’s Make America Love Again", Stevie Wonder said it too – and he supports us.
Where is the project at right now? Are there more videos coming, with more singers from more countries?
We have a video wall in addition to the main video which features singers from Cuba, Lebanon, Senegal, Italy and the UK. We have won many film awards and it seems that the message is starting to get through. My aim was to make the song an anthem for the 2020 election but we were not in time. No matter, NOW appears to be the zeitgeist, this song is a call to Make America Love Again. What do I mean? Read the lyrics: They talk about how America has done many things of which it cannot be proud but the idea it is "all bad" does not stand up.
It is a call for fairness, kindness and for justice rather than hatred and intolerance.
It recognises that America has done much good in the past – the New Deal, you saved us in World War 2, then the Marshall Plan, the Summer of Love, Muhammad Ali, Madonna, Beyonce, Martin Luther King, Thomas Edison, Spike Lee, Leonard Cohen, Al Pacino, Denzel Washington and Barack Obama. What an amazing country the USA can be!
We simply seek to play our part in reminding ourselves how here in the UK and throughout the world we too have so much work to do. What happens in America spreads around the world and this is our offering to you in the USA, the UK, Europe and for all the world.
Barack Obama said he believes in the “possibility of America”. This is the message behind Make America Love Again. It is even more important today when both Ukraine and Taiwan face possible invasion, when our children are threatened by climate change, when inequality is more rampant than ever.
Only the USA stands powerful enough to protect us across the world, the same as during World War 2. There is much wrong with America but much can be right, thank goodness America is there – right now.
Filming Music and Songwriting is challenging, are you also a musician? What, in your view, is the relationship between Music and Film, and how does the interaction between both forms play out from the filmmaker's perspective?
I spend every spare moment playing the piano, saxophone and writing though that mainly comes in the middle of the night. I also play music for improvised theater. I had to "teach" the actors that music is not just an accompaniment but often sets the tone of the piece. Thus in cinema, music and film are close cousins - think "Jaws", think Kubrick's "2001" and
you remember the music as much as the pictures. They feed off each other.
When I close my eyes and listen to Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata", I see images and colours which reflect where I am, how I am feeling, the psychic space in which I find myself. The music affects my mood, changes the colours and the shapes and takes me on a journey. As I focus on the internal images, I hear the music differently and find new experiences. The "Moonlight Sonata" is both simple and stunningly complex.
Both music and film are manifestations of our urge to create, to explore and to communicate. They are wonderful manifestations of the best of our humanity; of the extraordinary serendipity of our very existence.
Music - any art in fact - does not exist in a vacuum. When a melody comes to me, I sometimes wonder if it has been waiting there all this time, in space, in the ether.
Maybe we are all just channels for the "music of the spheres". Perhaps as Pythagoras proposed, the stars and the planets do emit their own unique "hum" based on their orbital revolution.
Perhaps life on Earth reflects the quality of these celestial sounds which are beyond the range of human hearing, in the same way that we are affected by the invisible infra-red and ultraviolet rays of light.
Plato once said that astronomy and music are "twinned" studies of sensual recognition.
Scientists have attempted to describe the process of creativity in terms of left and right brain activity. I like the idea of Gestalt, this has been my experience, whereby a feeling comes upon me. As I become aware I respond emotionally, then I actualise the feeling in the form of music and words.
MAKE AMERICA LOVE AGAIN - Lyrics
From slavery to Kennedy from Roosevelt to Vietnam
From Washington to Lexington from LBJ to Birmingham
Haight Ashbury to NBC, Bay of Pigs to WMD,
This is not all that I see when looking at my history
From Spike Lee to World War II,
The D-day we were there for you before it’s too late...
We talked about the CIA Black Power 1968
Kent State George Jackson big reaction, Soledad when you love your brother
If you want to police the world, with pride and with your flag unfurled
What are the values that you spread what is the cost in bodies dead
Of bullets in our children’s lives swing and salsa twist and jive
Blues and Hip Hop every night, it’s these that keep our world alive
I want to make America love again, make America love again
Make America – don’t know when – before it’s too late.
Post-covid cinema statement:
Post-covid cinema will still exist - although I believe that the situation presented will force the hand of the big film companies to re-evaluate the proposition of streaming services
and how they fit in with a theatrical release.
Going to the movies will always be an event - the silver screen in a dark hall will still be a part of everyone's lives, it’s just that revenue will flow back to the accountants in a slightly different fashion than the industry has been used to for all these years.
BEST CAUSE-DRIVEN FILM