Is your dream to become a film director? Well, don’t expect Hollywood to give you a leg up. You need to forge your own path and think creatively like Melvin Van Peebles. When he tried to find employment in the Los Angeles-based film industry, a movie executive told him there were no jobs but there might be an opening for an elevator operator. Van Peebles’s solution was to figure it out on his own and taught himself the basics through making some film shorts. Eventually, he relocated to Paris and reinvented himself as a novelist, journalist and short story author. As a writer in France, he was eligible for a director’s card so he applied, got it and adapted his 1967 novel La Permission as his feature film debut under the title, The Story of a Three-Day Pass (1968). The story depicts a brief romance between a black U.S. soldier stationed in France and the French woman he meets in a Parisian nightclub. The premise might sound simple and straightforward but the execution is decidedly original, resembling a merger between Nouvelle Vague filmmaking techniques and Van Pebbles’ own idiosyncratic directorial choices.
Although less well known today than Stanley Kramer’s Oscar-nominated 1967 drama, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?, and still unavailable on DVD/Blu-Ray, One Potato, Two Potato (1964) was the first serious, non-exploitive attempt to deal with an interracial marriage as its main subject and was independently produced outside Hollywood. Set in the fictional small town of Howard (a stand-in for Painesville, Ohio, where it was actually filmed), the movie is bookended by a courtroom ruling on a child custody case and in between is the sad but all too true story of an interracial couple who become social outcasts in both the white and black communities. Continue reading →