It's been two years since his last wide release feature film, Miracle at St. Anna, but don't assume Brooklyn-raised film legend Spike Lee has just been sitting on his heels, wiling away the days reeling in NBA super jocks. Mr. Lee has a plethora of projects underway, with a whopping eight listed as "In Developement" on IMDB, and a second post-Katrina documentary, If God Is Willing and the Creek Don't Rise, nearing completion. On top of all that, he even found a moment to come up with a Brooklynized Absolut bottle. Or did he? Last week the director talked to us about the BP oil spill, Fort Greene prior to the Caucasian invasion, and how the stoop on the Absolut bottle isn't the one he wanted.
Have you finished filming your newest documentary, If God Is Willing and the Creek Don't Rise? The situation in the Gulf changes every day, so I cannot say for sure that we've finished filming.
How has the spill affected filming? Greatly, because if the BP oil disaster had not happened, we were done filming. When this worst, abominable disaster hits the United States, we're going to have to rethink and restructure the whole film because I feel such that there's no way that we can do this film that's supposed to be looking back on New Orleans over the last five years and not include this cataclysmic thing.
How do you think your first post-Katrina documentary back in 2006, When the Levees Broke, was received in the area? What feedback have you gotten from people down there? I think that people were really happy. They were really happy that they had the chance to speak and tell the whole story in When the Levees Broke. I think that they felt that the world now understood better what they're actually going through. Every time I go back there...like this morning, I had to give a speech at Tulane University about Katrina breaching the levees, and about BP...and every time I go there I get nothin' but love. So I would say the film got received greatly.
How well do you feel government is handling the situation down there, what with a need to react to the oil spill on top of the post-Katrina efforts? You know, people have to understand that there still seems to be a sense of great disorganization. I know real admirable police are running things, but I for one, and many others, think that Obama should call General Russel Honoré, he's retired now, but let him run. Honoré is from Louisiana, he lives now in Baton Rouge, and we interviewed him in this new film, If God Is Willing and the Creek Don't Rise, and I asked him point-blank: "If you got the call, would you be ready to come in and get this thing on shot?" and he said, "If I got the call, I'd be ready." So I'm not trying to disrespect, but the job's not being done with great organization. The same way Honoré came in with Katrina, he could do it again with this BP oil disaster.
I'm curious about the Michael Jackson film you have in the works, Brooklyn Loves Michael Jackson. Can't talk about that now.
Fair enough. But we will be having our 2nd annual Michael Jackson birthday Brooklyn extravaganza in Prospect Park August 29th. It's going to be bigger and better this year. August 29th, Prospect Park, Brooklyn, New York. People come the world over.
You filmed the last three performances of Passing Strange on Broadway, what was your motivation for making that particular film adaptation? I loved the play! Loved the play, loved the music. I became good friends with the creators, Heidi and Stew [Rodewald], and they asked me to do it. I was a fan, so.
The adaptation seems to purposefully keep it very much a theater experience, there's no masking the fact that it's clearly a stage production. I wanted to, you know, pay justice to them, so I didn't want to mess around with the play. But at the same still wanted to make it cinematic.
You've done quite a bit of performance filming, like your HBO film of John Leguizamo's one-man Broadway show Freak back in 1998. I don't try to be limited in my film making. So when opportunities arise, and when projects of people I respect, and love, and great artists... you know, I jump at that stuff.
Do you have any plans to film another performance in the future? Has anything that's on now piqued your interest? I would like to, but, you know, sometimes this stuff...I don't announce it, I don't... It comes to me. John Leguizamo called me.
Do you get a lot of requests from productions to film their shows? I get enough. I get stuff. The stuff I take is the great stuff.
What was growing up in Brooklyn like for you? What neighborhoods did you live in? I was born in... No. You know what. This question right here? You could...I'm gonna answer you...but you could easily Google this. This is old news.
I was born in Atlanta Georgia. Moved here when I was one. Lived in Crown Heights. Then we were the first African American family in Cobble Hill. Then my mother said "I'm tired of paying rent," and she wanted a brownstone. So my father and my mother bought their brownstone in Fort Greene, 1968.
Which of these neighborhoods was your favorite? Fort Greene!
Any Fort Greene restaurants or bars you remember fondly? Or still go back to? You know, I lived there. Lived and worked there. I live in Manhattan now. So you better ask somebody else where the hot bars and the spots are.
There must have been some place that was your favorite while you were there.
The best tiny little Chinese restaurant in New York City is called Kum Kau. It's on the corner of Washington Avenue and Myrtle Avenue.
Your first student film was a nod to Brooklyn, Last Hustle in Brooklyn, can you tell us about that? It was a student film.
All right. Where were you going to school at that time? At that time I was at Morehouse College, Atlanta Georgia. It was shot in New York in the summer of 1977.
The Absolut Brooklyn bottle has a graphic of a front stoop on it, and it says it was your stoop, which neighborhood was that in? That's in Crown Heights.
Why did you choose that particular stoop out of the three you had growing up? I didn't want it to be Crown Heights, but that's what they, you know... It's not my company.
Did you have another design concept? The design was always the stoop, I was just told to pick the stoop, that's all.
Would you rather have had the Fort Greene stoop on the bottle, then? You said it was a brownstone, that was probably a great stoop. Yeah, but it was a particular brownstone you had in Fort Greene. Fort Greene's got some of the best brownstones in the city.
And yet that didn't end up on the bottle? My mother was such a visionary. She bought that brownstone in 1968 for like $40,000. And this is when you had NO white people, very few, in Fort Greene. It was not the fashionable place it is now.
Were you still living there when the neighborhood began transitioning into what it is now? When did you start noticing it changing? You know, you have to do your homework. You do your homework and you find out the specific year when gentrification took place.
I'm asking if you witnessed that gentrification. I can't give you an exact date.
Okay, but what was your own experience of it? [No response.]
So you've moved out of Brooklyn now, and you're on the UES. Any favorite spots in Manhattan? I don't go out that much.
Come on. Really? Knicks games, Yankee games, movies, go home.
It looks like as of Monday you've signed on to direct an FBI thriller, Nagasaki Deadline? Can't talk about it.