Too often those of us in Dayton don’t look around and see the history, architecture, community and passion that outsiders see. For these reasons, and many more, the Dayton region is attractive to filmmakers, artists and storytellers. Over the past few years, a filmmaker has been working quietly in Dayton, across the state, and in places around the country to tell the story of local poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. This month, a great opportunity is coming up for community members from the Miami Valley to be a part of this project. In order to learn more, I asked filmmaker Frederick Lewis some questions on this project and his experience.
Can you talk about your history with Paul Laurence Dunbar and what drew you to focus your scholarship on him?
I am co-producing this documentary with Professor Joseph Slade, a colleague in the School of Media Arts & Studies. We have been working on it for several years and are now nearing completion. We hope to complete the project within the next 12 months. Our intended audience is PBS. Two of my previous documentaries have aired widely on PBS stations around the country and screened at many museums and universities.
What trips have you made to Dayton and what have you learned since launching this project?
We have made repeated trips to Dayton over the last three years, and conducted interviews with local Dunbar experts Laverne Sci, Herbert Martin, and Bing Davis. We’ve also conducted interviews with Dunbar biographer Felton Best, a distinguished professor at Central Connecticut State, and author Akasha Hull, who has written extensively on Dunbar’s relationship with his wife, Alice.
Can you discuss your history with this project and how it’s grown?
We plan to interweave the biographical elements of Dunbars’ prolific, but tragically short life, with contemporary links to show his continued relevance. We followed the creation of Bing Davis’ sculpture inspired by Dunbar’s “Negro Love Song,” and James Pate’s new mural which prominently features images of Dunbar. We also recently completed a segment on how Paul Laurence Dunbar High School in Lexington, Kentucky honors their school’s namesake.
Why should a person want to be a part of the shoot on Sunday?
The music video we will be shooting on May 13th will also be woven into the documentary. Inspired by a canvas by Dayton painter James Pate, in which Dunbar is portrayed as a contemporary hip hop artist, we have taken Dunbar’s famous poem “We Wear the Mask,” and had Ohio University student Jean P, a fast rising hip hop performer, put Dunbar’s words to music. The video will feature a myriad of masks created by Dayton’s own Tristan Cupp of Zoot Theatre Co. We have rented the old Montgomery Court House for a scene to be shot on May 13th between 5–7 pm and we need as many extras as possible to help us out. Please dress in contemporary clothing suitable for attendance at a trial. Yes, it is Mother’s Day. Just bring your mother with you! Give her a cameo in a music video for Mother’s Day:) We ALSO need 8 or 10 people earlier in the day to act in several scenes to be shot in downtown Dayton. If you are interested in that aspect of the production please let us know asap!!
How to go:
When: Sunday, May 13, 5-7 PM (time slots available earlier in the day as well)
Where: Old Courthouse in Downtown Dayton on Courthouse Square (5PM Session)
Clothing: Contemporary clothes you have in your closet! You’ll dress in business clothing – something appropriate for a trial (jackets, ties, skirts, etc).
How: Email Frederick Lewis to express your interest and learn more: [email protected]