Rel Dowdell is a very gifted screenwriter and director. Born and raised in Philadelphia, he received his Bachelor’s degree in English with magna cum laude honors from Fisk University and a Master’s Degree in Film with highest distinction from Boston University. Dowdell’s first feature fi lm, Train Ride, was released to widespread critical acclaim. Produced with independent financing, the film was acquired and distributed by Sony Pictures in 2005 and was a tremendous financial success. The picture starred Wood Harris, MC Lyte, Russell Hornsby, and the late Esther Rolle in her last performance. Train Ride was ranked as one of the best American movies that year as cited by veteran film critic Gerald Peary of The Boston Phoenix. It also won the honor of “Best Feature” at the American Theatre of Harlem Film Festival in 2005.
Rel Dowdell has been compared to John Singleton and Spike Lee in the way that he blends urban storytelling and suspense to tackle relevant and universal social issues intimately intertwined with a powerful moral message. Here, Rel discusses his new fi lm, Changing the Game, a drama shot in his hometown and starring Sean Riggs, Irma P. Hall, Tony Todd, Dennis L.A. White and Sticky Fingaz.
KW: How did you come up with the idea of Changing the Game?
RD: I wanted to be daring and create a fi lm with an African-American male protagonist that combined genres, kind of like a cross between “New Jack City” and “Wall Street.” The key was to make sure to show that the African-American male protagonist, when given the chance to escape his virulent, inner-city environment and become successful, would make sure not to get engulfed by it again, but at the same time, never lose his sense of self and appreciate the roots from which he originated, in order to make smart decisions in his life.
KW: To what extent is the story autobiographical?
RD: Wow! Good question. I think every screenwriter takes pieces of him or herself and integrates it into the fabric of some of the characters in the screenplay when it’s written…The main character, Darrell Barnes (played by Sean Riggs), uses spirituality and intelligence to guide him through some of the pitfalls in his life. I can fully relate to that. I had people pray for me continuously during the more arduous times in my life, just like the character of the grandmother (played by Irma P. Hall) did for Darrell. The part about adapting philosophies of Niccolo Machiavelli to deal with adversities and adversaries seemed like an interesting element to me since I had read texts such as Machiavelli’s “The Prince” and “The Art of War” by Sun Tzu numerous times during my academic years.
KW: What message do you want people to take away from the movie?
RD: That life is a constant game of tests and struggles. Just when you think you’re in the clear, even tougher tests are ahead. Your opposition adapts to you just like you adapt to it. Some tests you are going to win, and some you are going to lose. However, with true faith, you will have a chance to get back in the game and win when facing the final and most consequential test to keep your soul intact.
KW: Have you started to think about your next film?
RD: It’s just starting to come to me, Mr. Williams. After seven years of stress and strife to get this film released, I am finally feeling a sense of completion. I do have a wonderful idea in a completely different genre that I know would be a smash hit film if the right people got behind it.
KW: Thanks again for the time, Rel, and best of luck with the film.
RD: Thanks so much again, Mr. Williams, for taking the time to interview me and for your review of “Changing the Game!” If anyone doesn’t get the chance to see the film in the theaters, make sure you look out for the DVD on August 28th. And please, no bootleg! Bootlegging hurts the potential success of African-American films worst of all.
UPDATE 08/17/12: Changing The Game will available for rent at your local Redbox on August 28, 2012. For more information you can visit the Redbox website.