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This unabashed portrait of groundbreaking independent filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles chronicles the eventful life of a self-realized renaissance artist. Van Peebles is widely lauded and best known for his 1971 cult classic Sweet Sweetback's Baadassss Song, which single-handedly ushered in the Blaxploitation film explosion of the '70s. The delightful treasure in Watermelon is Angio's unearthing of Van Peebles' lost years: his pre-Hollywood career as a painter, author, writer, and independent filmmaker in Paris, France. Like most black American expatriates in the '50s and '60s, Van Peebles was lured by Europe's ability to make good on the promise that African-Americans could have opportunities to be whatever they desired, including the lofty goal of becoming a working artist. Forget Madonna-this documentary is celluloid proof that decade after decade Van Peebles remains the true personification of reinvention. When the Blaxploitation movement imploded in the late '70s, leaving Van Peebles without a job in Hollywood, he evolved into a Tony® Award-nominated playwright and folk music artist. Although son Mario likens his dad's voice to a "frog on crack," the elder Van Peebles' use of narrative in his compositions was a precursor to rap music. And when the money hungry philosophy of the "big '80s" rolled in, Van Peebles again found his niche-this time on Wall Street, becoming the first black trader on the New York Stock Exchange. Larger-than-life and brimming with ambition, like its subject, this absorbing doc also features interviews with Spike Lee and Elvis Mitchell.
Joe Angio coproduced, codirected, and coedited the documentaries A Feast of Fools (1987), a 30-minute film on the clash of cultures at Mardi Gras, and More Than a Game (1991), a 60-minute film examining the world of playground basketball in Chicago. A Feast of Fools was named Best Documentary at the Festival of Illinois Film & Video Makers. More Than a Game has aired in more than 20 countries around the globe. Angio was also a producer for The '90s, a PBS program featuring the work of independent filmmakers. He is the editor-in-chief of Time Out New York magazine. How To Eat Your Watermelon in White Company (and Enjoy It) is his first feature-length documentary.