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'Unstoppable: A Conversation w/ Melvin Van Peebles, Gordon Parks & Ossie Davis' - a Documentary in Need of a Re-Release

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by Tambay A. Obenson
June 13, 2014 5:10 PM
1 Comment
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There are fewer things more frustrating than learning about an older film, searching for it, hoping it's available on some home video format (DVD, Blu-ray, digital, even VHS) so that you could either rent it or buy it, only to discover that it doesn't exist in any accessible format at all. You can't buy it; can't rent it; can't watch it. Nothing. Nada.

If you're lucky, you'll find a pirated version on video sharing sites like YouTube, but we certainly don't condone piracy here. However, some distributors certainly don't help matters when they essentially keep films from the public (whether consciously or not) - a public that's actually very willing to pay for those films.

Maybe it's, in part, a matter of demand. If they feel that there's no demand for a title, then it's not in their best financial interest to release it on home video formats. So it's up to the public to ensure that distributors are aware of, and are giving them exactly what they want. That's what makes a market, right? Sellers meeting buyer demand.

Here's a title that really ought to be available on some format, not even necessarily all, which I remember visiting a couple of years ago - "Unstoppable: A Conversation With Melvin Van Peebles, Gordon Parks and Ossie Davis." 

I was reminded of it while researching Ruby Dee's on-screen career for a future post, although she's not at the center of this particular documentary, which its title makes obvious.

It first aired on the Black STARZ network in early 2005, a week after Ossie Davis died. In fact, it was an original documentary backed and produced by Black Starz, that premiered at the then Starz Denver Pan African Film Festival. Based on my research, neither the festival, nor Black Starz (also Starz In Black) exist anymore. Black Starz was part of Starz Inc (the premium cable network Starz is the company's flagship brand), dedicated to showcasing black cinema, launched in 1997 as a joint venture with BET, until 2001, when BET opted out of the venture, when it was bought by Viacom. The channel was effectively shut down in 2005.

So, ultimately, rights to "Unstoppable: A Conversation With Melvin Van Peebles, Gordon Parks and Ossie Davis" would belong to Starz Inc. I have sent them an email asking about the film, so if/when I receive a response, I'll let you guys know. Although if anyone reading this knows something I don't, do share.

Thankfully I was able to watch it in full a couple of years ago (I believe I stumbled upon it on YouTube; although it's not there anymore). It's an intimate, candid portrait of 3 of our most treasured film artists (2 of them have left us) together for the only time, on screen, discussing their extraordinary careers, including the myriad of issues they faced, their struggles and triumphs. 

Correct me if I'm wrong, but I think this is the only existing filmed interview with these 3 legends together, in the same room, at the same time.

Warrington Hudlin moderated the conversation.

There are a lot of years, experience and wisdom to learn from here, and I recall thoroughly enjoying the entire hour-long portrait, learning quite a few things about each of them that I wasn't aware of previously. For example, I didn't know that Gordon Parks almost directed a movie based on the life of Alexander Pushkin. As I recall, he said during the conversation that the project was practically all set to go, but then there was a regime change at the company that was backing the film, and the whole thing eventually fell apart.

Ossie Davis also shared that a dream project of his was to make a Pushkin film, as well as one on Toussaint Louverture.

As an aside, you might recall that Jeffrey Wright recently said that his dream project would be to star as Pushkin in a biopic. 

Also featured in the documentary are commentary contributions from Ruby Dee of course, as well as Reginald Hudlin, Julie Dash, Nelson George, and Mario Van Peebles to name a few.

So, again, sadly, it's not available on any home video format currently; although it was probably released at some point (I couldn't determine that with certainty), because, as I said, I watched it all on YouTube a couple of years ago, so the user who uploaded it to that video sharing website, must have had a hard copy of it. Or maybe they taped it when it aired on Starz in 2005.

In addition to emailing Starz about it, I also sent Warrington Hudlin a message, since he moderated the conversation, asking if he knows anything about the documentary's whereabouts. When I hear back from either, I'll update this post with my findings. 

In the meantime, below watch the first 3 /12 minutes of the film, which is all that I could find of it online (maybe someone else will have better luck):

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1 Comment

  • Alade | June 14, 2014 11:25 AMReply

    Proud African American film collector...and a proud owner of this historical conversation. Doesn't get any better than this.

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