Peter Madsen speaks with directors of "Black Cherokee"
Otis Houston, Jr., is an artist. Nearly every morning, he performs right where the FDR bottlenecks by the Triborough Bridge. Since 1997 morning commuters have alternately glimpsed the now-58-year-old in various positions: standing completely still with fruit in his mouth, constructing temporary monuments out of street trash, and every now and again, working out a boxing routine while clad in adult diapers.
One of these early-morning motorists—they must now number in the millions—is filmmaker Ben Rosen , who first noticed Houston on a drive to visit family in New England. Years passed, and then came the night when Rosen and longtime friend and fellow filmmaker Sam Cullman were shooting the shit at a bar, wondering what subject could sustain a short documentary for the two to put together—a much needed reprieve from the years-long commitments of full-length documentaries. Sam, also a native New Yorker, had spied Otis now and again, and the two had one of those Eureka! moments.
Titled BLACK CHEROKEE —as the native South Carolinian, part descendent of the tribe has dubbed himself—the pair’s 22-minute short documentary trails Otis as he goes about his morning performances, attending his janitorial job, and caring for his aging, Alzheimer’s-afflicted father. BLACK CHEROKEE sold out its premiere screening last month at the DOC NYC festival. The filmmakers are still trying to land a distribution deal, in addition to finding an appropriate means of streaming/selling the short in its entirety. [We at Periscope will update this article as news develops.]
I recently interviewed Ben and Sam in Williamsburg on the eve of the short’s premiere. While both were very forthcoming, I don’t quote Sam until the fifth question.