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Marilyne Abigou had never dated a black mannot in her native West Africa, not when she lived in D.C., and not since she had moved back to her homeland, where she currently lives.
When Abigou returned to Washington last March on a business trip, she met local filmmaker Jon Marc Sandifer one evening through a friend. The subject of her dating history came upand the gears in Sandifer’s head began turning: How could he determine why she had never dated a black man? “I went out for drinks late on a Monday night, met Marilyne, and history was made,” Sandifer says.
At the time, Sandifer, the creative director of D.C.-based cable station NUE-TV, was searching for a project to be his first film. The future of NUE-TV, he said, was looking shaky. He needed a piece that could help him get to the next stage of his career if NUE-TV were to go under. (It hasn’t.)
And so what for others might have been just a long conversation for Sandifer became the documentary Knowing Richard Black, which screened for the first time on Oct. 23 at Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge.
Sandifer’s plan was to send Abigou on blind dates with some of his black friends and film the results. But he had to act fast: Abigou was going to be in D.C. only until the end of the week.
“That Tuesday morning,” Sandifer says, “I walked into the office and told Brandi [Smith, one of his producers at NUE-TV] I wanted to shoot my film. She said, ‘OK. When do you want to start?’ I said, ‘Right now. Go get the camera, come to my office, and press Record.’” So with Smith behind the camera, Sandifer called up four friends and began coaxing them into going out with Abigousecretly taping their discussions while he had them on speakerphone.
Only one date actually took place; the bulk of the filmwhich essentially became a documentary about Sandifer’s trying to make a documentaryis several humorously candid phone conversations between the filmmaker and his friends. Most of the talks shift from topic to topic, but they are largely centered on women, dating, and current relationship woes. Tre Tucker, 31, unknowingly committed his ongoing saga with his ex-girlfriend to tape.
“I was truly in shock the first time I saw [the film],” Tucker says. “Some of that stuff I didn’t anticipate being in it. The first time I was very, very uncomfortablebut I’m all right.”
On the film’s single dateduring which the pair were aware they were being filmedAbigou met Sandifer’s friend Mark McKayle, 33, for drinks, and the two got into an abbreviated conversation in which he asked her why she had never dated a member of her own race. She responded that she had never had the opportunity.
Though the film never really answers the question it sets out to investigate, Sandifer says he is happy with the result.
“When I began filming Knowing Richard Black, I knew I had the story to draw the viewer in,” Sandifer says. “I knew I had the pieces to put the story to action; I knew I had the talent from a technical standpoint to bring the story to life once on tape. [But] what exactly [would] that story would be? I had no idea. Everything is shot in real time. I began shooting with no idea on how the film would end.”
“I was apprehensive [about seeing the film], because I like to be low-key,” McKayle says. “To be in front of the camera, that made me feel a bit uncomfortable. [But] there’s nothing in there that I’m ashamed of.” Rion A. Scott
Knowing Richard Black will screen at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 4, at Visions Cinema Bistro Lounge.