“Park Day” is a project that will always be near and dear to me, old friend like. Not so much because it remains the only feature that I’ve written that has actually been produced, but rather because of the people involved, the time in which it took place and the forces that influenced it. But first what it’s about:
Essentially, “Park Day” is about three young people who are struggling with how to move forward in their lives. We see over the course of one special day, a “Park Day” — an African-American community reunion– how their lives are ushered to one pivotal moment that will likely shape who they are forever.
Park Day came at a very special time both personally and professionally. Personally, I was just idealistic enough to not know what I wasn’t supposed to be able to achieve and had a group of extremely competent, talented professional friends who felt the same way. We were all very hungry and anxious to make a film that, as my good friend Ron Canada put it, was “evergreen” and had something to say. Anyone working on “Park Day” had to be a soldier. Shooting in rural southwest Missouri in the summer time can be brutal. For a low budget crew, it was one punishing day after another.
Park Day also created the opportunity to work with the late, great Brock Peters. Brock, Nancy Travis and I had done a play together and became fast friends. He was very much a mentor to me and his calming voice full of perspective and wisdom is deeply missed. I had hoped that Brock would do the film but his schedule just wouldn’t allow it. So, we went out to another actor who initially turned the role down. Fortunately for us, Brock’s schedule opened up and he came on board. Brock was approaching 70 at the time and demonstrated to everyone-myself included-what it meant to push and soldier on despite how you may feel. He was the consummate pro.
Park Day came on the heels of a very special time in the landscape of African-American filmmaking and storytelling. I believe historians will one day look back at that period as a neo-black renaissance, to some degree. Spike Lee was approaching his apex, and a year or so before the time I began writing Park Day, “Do the Right Thing” had just hit big and dropped a lot of jaws–mine included. Spike was my hero! Not long after that, Kim Fields dragged me off to see “Daughters of the Dust.” To this day, I can’t tell you what that damn thing was about, but I came out feeling like I had passed through a dream. There was an energy among those women that was ethereal and wondrous in its own way. And somewhere in there, Charles Fuller came out with “To Sleep with Anger.” I would be lying if I didn’t say all of these films had a very significant influence on “Park Day.” Perhaps the strongest influence, however, came from the playwright August Wilson. During my conservatory training at the Old Globe Theatre in San Diego, I had the great blessing to be understudy to both the Broadway companies of August Wilson’s “Joe Turner’s Come and Gone” and “The Piano Lesson.” In relation to “Park Day,” Joe Turner was the most significant. I became fascinated by the influence of Carl Jung on Wilson’s work and the concept of “blood memory.” Anyone who knows Wilson, will see this as an influence on “Park Day.”
The thing that perhaps saddens me more than any other regarding the film is that, for me, it’s difficult not to see it as one of the last films of a time when “black cinema” was attempting to say… something. There was an artistic dignity to the films then that I don’t believe we’ve seen since. The “market” simply isn’t looking for that now. Of course it wasn’t looking for Spike Lee twenty years ago either, so… . Some things simply must be forced. Then, it was extremely difficult to get Park Day made. In today’s environment, it would be all but impossible. The pendulum swings both ways, however, and I believe that their will come a time, again, when independent filmmaking of all stripes will lead the way, as it did throughout the much of the nineties.