Undercover is a documentary film starring Richard Bert, a Brooklyn man born and bred. Back in the 80′s, Richard was working as an Undercover narcotics officer for the New York Police Department.
His job was to infiltrate the crack infested underground, and find out where the drugs were coming from. But the problem with living your life behind a mask is that sooner or later, someone is going to see behind it, and discover who you really are. But this isn’t just the story about Richard’s escape and survival from deep undercover, it’s also a story about what happened next, it’s a story about one mans’ journey to find his true self, his true spirit and his true purpose.
The end result is a power film. Drugs, LGBT, AIDs, racism, and ultimately hope are all explored, told through the amazing, Richard Bert, perhaps one of the most captivating storytellers of his time, and fondly referred to by some as a ‘griot‘. Through his words we are led through a harrowing narrative of his experiences in the crime and drug infested city, as we eventually uncover higher aspirations and a new commitment for giving back to the community of Brooklyn.
We talked with Rayne Leafe, the director of Undercover to learn more about how this project came to light. Here’s part 1 of our interview with her:
How did you hear about Richard Bert’s story and what about it made you want to document his journey?
At Stomp It Out Productions we are so fortunate to be working alongside GVN (Global Volunteer Network) and the GVN Foundation, who raise funds for local communities around the world and send volunteers to those communities. Over the years we have heard a lot of amazing stories and met a lot of amazing people. Richard was one of those amazing people who took part in the first ever GVN Kilimanjaro Fundraising Trek with Stomp It Out Productions Executive Producer, Colin Salisbury . It wasn’t until last year though that Colin really heard Richard’s story properly for the first time. He was in New York and put out the call to friends in the area to join him for dinner. It was at this dinner that Richard shared his story to the group, and for 40 minutes you could hear a pin drop. Immediately after that Colin contacted me and told me he had a film! So we Skyped with Richard and once again, for about 40 minutes over Skype, Richard had our complete attention. It’s very rare that you find someone with such incredible story telling skills, who also has such an amazing story to tell. I could see the finished film in my head immediately, so I said let’s go for it!
You were able to successfully raise more than your crowdfunding goal on Kickstarter. What do you attribute this success to, and how much prep work did you have to do on the campaign?
I attribute this completely to our networks. We have a really great network that we can access and thankfully quite a few of them were intrigued by our trailer and were interested in seeing the film. However when it comes down to it, our biggest supporters are always our closest friends and family and without them we would not have hit our target. The Kickstarter process is just like regular fundraising, you never really know what’s going to inspire or motivate people to engage. As for prep work, we didn’t do too much; again a result of our limited work force and time. One of Colin’s favourite and most used phrases is “Figure It Out,” and generally that’s what we’ve done; we’ve jumped in first and then figured it out as we’ve gone along – it’s worked out so far!
Under your production company Stomp It Out Productions, your aim is “to make humanitarian documentaries that inspire action and motivate it’s viewers to become global citizens,” where did this mission statement come from and what does it mean to you?
It means everything to me. Stomp It Out Productions is less about making movies to me and more about inspiring, motivating and creating change. However you do that is up to you: some people start non profits, some people raise funds, some people create art or use their creative skills to bring awareness to a subject. Our mission grew very organically from the work that we already do with the GVN Foundation, finding local solutions to local problems, raising funds and awareness for communities in need and inspiring people to believe that they too can create change. This is the heart of everything that I do at Stomp It Out Productions, and whether I am crafting films myself or helping others to craft their own, it is something which drives my creative purpose at all times.
What’s your next project? Do you have any other films you’re currently working on?
‘Undercover’ is actually not our first film – it is the first film that we have finished and released, but it wasn’t our first project, which was ‘Stomp It Out’ (hence the name of our production company!). The film follows 15 young gumboot dancers from a slum in South Africa as they travel to China to take part in a workshop tour around International Schools in Shanghai. Filming that was an incredible experience and that group from the Kliptown Youth Program has become like a family to us. ‘Undercover’ popped up right in the middle and we decided to go for it, knowing that it would be a shorter project, but now that ‘Undercover’ is wrapped, I’m back at the editing desk for ‘Stomp It Out.’ We are hoping to have it ready mid year – and we both think it’s going to be really special. If I can capture just a tiny percentage of these kids’ energy and positivity, I’ll have succeeded. You can check out the trailer at the website www.stompitoutmovie.com
We’d love to thank Rayne for her wonderful interview, and brilliant contributions to cinema and storytelling. We’re definitely looking forward to seeing more work from her and the GVN crew! If you are as well, you can find them here:
Undercover has gone on to be screened at the Langston Hughes African American Film Festival, and the Pan African Film Festival this year, to a great reception, and has been described as a film that ”breaks all the rules of cinema, but it is a must see” by a reviewer at the Langston Hughes African American Film Festival.