The 2014 Cannes Film Festival marks 25 years since Spike Lee brought Do The Right Thing to the Croisette in a premiere that left some journalists labeling it a powder keg and predicting a trail of racial violence for its U.S. release. Lee was invited to celebrate the anniversary in Cannes Classics, but business commitments kept him home. Lee instead is throwing all his chips into the comparatively obscure American Black Film Festival, which moves from Miami to New York next month. There, he’ll celebrate the silver anniversary and launch his new film, Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus, and he is hoping hard that distributors will come. Lee, who 28 years ago made his feature debut on the seminal indie She’s Gotta Have It, has since made films of every shape, size and genre, way more of them memorable (Malcolm X, Inside Man) than forgettable (Oldboy). We spoke to discuss why he selected ABFF to launch a new film made at the tiniest budget level since his debut, and it turned into a long discussion of how a filmmaker evolves when he is determined to make movies his way. I found our exchange so entertaining I wanted to share it with Deadline readers. Much has changed since Lee blazed on the scene with a lively visual style and subject matter that evolved from playful to provocative. So it somehow seemed emblematic of change last night that Lee, always identified as a Brooklynite die-hard Knicks fan, did part of this chat while trying to direct a cab driver taking him from Manhattan (where he now lives) to Brooklyn, the only place you can watch a New York team play basketball right now. “If you write where I’m going, make sure to say I’m there to root for Jesus Shuttlesworth, because I’ll always be a Knicks guy. I’m not there for the Brooklyn Nets. And please tell those distributors to come and see my film.”
DEADLINE: From its crowdfunding origins to your decision to unveil at the New York-bound American Black Film Festival on June 22, Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus seems an unlikely place to entice distributors that go shopping at Cannes, Telluride, Toronto and Venice. Why was the American Black Film Festival the right place to launch?
LEE: I had obligations here that prevented me from being at Cannes, and it just didn’t work out for Do The Right Thing and Cannes Classics. And I don’t want to wait until Toronto for Da Sweet Blood Of Jesus. You get a distribution deal in the fall and it takes another four or five months to position the film for release. I just don’t want to have this film sitting on a shelf, waiting, waiting, waiting. I’m friends with Jeff Friday and it’s a big move for that festival to come to New York. I am a New York City filmmaker. They already asked to commemorate Do The Right Thing, and they were looking for a closing-night film. I said, let’s do it. (more…)