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In Development: ‘Octavia: Elegy for a Vampire (or Endless Shards of Jazz for a Brutal World)’

In Development: 'Octavia: Elegy for a Vampire (or Endless Shards of Jazz for a Brutal World)'

The name Dennis Leroy Moore (he goes by Dennis Leroy Kangalee now) may not immediately sound like a filmmaker whose work you are already familiar with; but, that wouldn’t be too much of a surprise, because, although he’s a life-long artist (a renaissance man, really), he’s written and directed just one feature film – the explosive 2000/2001 drama As An Act Of Protest

The film was never formally released. I would know, because, 10 years ago, I formed a distribution company with 2 partners – the goal being to release independent black films, starting with those ultra lo-budget, but still relatively strong works by promising filmmakers – and Dennis’ As An Act Of Protest was the 3rd film that we picked up. 
In short, we loved the film. In fact, we believed it was the strongest film we had at the time, and were very anxious to present it to as many audiences all over the world, as we could, seeing it as a potential break for our young, struggling company. But, we soon found ourselves caught in the middle of a rights war between the filmmaker and the producer of the film (who also helped financed it). It was a battle that continued for quite a long while, and, eventually, we had to pull ourselves out of it altogether, which was a tough decision to make. But it ultimately was for the best. 
Dennis is an incredibly intense, passionate, intelligent artist, who was very protective of his film, and rightfully-so. But it’s a shame that the film was, and, to my knowledge, still hasn’t been seen widely, 13 years after it was made, and about a decade after we came on board to release it. 
It was an ultra-lo-budget film, and, as you might expect, when a fiercely indie filmmaker is working with little to no money, it’s not a technically-sound film. It was shot very simply on video (keep in mind that this was in the year 2000, before the more recent boom in digital filmmaking), without any visual flourishes. But what really sucked us in, when we first saw the film a decade ago, was the writing, the acting, the story and message. 
The writing is sound – quite heady and heavy actually; The acting was strong (Dennis, who is one of the film’s two stars, is a graduate of NY’s LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts, then attended the Juilliard Conservatory, before leaving to form his own theater company, and eventually staged various playwrights at the National Black Theater in Harlem, before developing his own original material). The story and message resonated with us, reflecting Dennis’ (as well as our own) anger and frustration, as black people in America, constantly fighting to balance the uneven playing field we have to confront on a daily basis.
It’s unapologetically raw and in your face, in its presentation, pulling absolutely no punches, and deserves to be seen by more eyeballs. As I type this, I’m realizing that I actually may have a screener copy of it on DVD, which I saved from 10 years ago. I’ll dig for it this weekend, hoping that, wherever it’s buried, it’s still in good shape, and playable, and I’ll watch it again. It’s been a very long time since I last did. 
Inspired by the murder of Amadou Diallo, the coming-of-age As An Act Of Protest tells the story of Cairo Medina (Luis Laporte, who now goes by Che Ayende) and Abner Sankofa (Dennis Leroy), 2 friends – an acting student (Laporte), and the other, a directing fellow, both in a prestigious college theatre program (Dennis), both living in New York City. The film follows the struggles experienced by the fiery pair, as they drop out of their respective school theatre programs, and launch their own independent theatre company, as an act of protest against their college’s lack of inclusion of, and interesting in the works by African American playwrights. However, while the idea was initially attractive to them on paper, the artists soon face overwhelming odds as they battle with the company’s board of directors, their landlord over issues of content, each other, and more, leading to a split and an even deeper rage, after living through further trying circumstances, and decisions made to help contain that rage. Ultimately, call it a meditation on what it means to be an artist of color surviving in an oppressive society that doesn’t value your person, and, in effect, your contributions. 
I was quite certain that if the film got out, Dennis would’ve likely gone on to make even more movies, each one not as challenging to finance and produce as the first. I haven’t been in contact with him in years; Our last conversation was over email, at least 5 yeas ago, in which I learned that he’d moved to Berlin, and was directing plays in a theatre there.
But he’s apparently back to filmmaking, which I’m certainly excited about. I just learned that he’s prepping and currently casting a feature film titled Octavia: ‘Elegy for a Vampire (or Endless Shards of Jazz for a Brutal World). With that title (and knowing what Dennis is capable of as an artist), the project already has my full attention. 
And then I read the synopsis, which sucked me in even more: 
“Octavia:Elegy for a Vampire (or Endless Shards of Jazz for a Brutal World),” is an experimental film about a 150 year-old black vampire whose suicidal urges, a result of the apathy in the world, have prompted her to find someone who will help her die. Part poem, rock opera, a Brechtian play — this is not a traditional horror/vampire genre film as there is no exploitive nudity or violence. The horror is symbolic and representative of the world’s spiritual paralysis. This is a cubistic portrait of a woman trying to come to terms with the perennial problems of racism, misogyny, apathy, and the startling lack of consciousness in the world. Throughout her spiritual journey, we see various chapters and aspects of her life as an activist, punk rocker, and cleaning woman. This film will be a meditation on colonization and lost love among the malaise of our times and will be highly experimental, formally, more akin to the work of Bill Gunn and Nicolas Roeg and will require extremely disciplined and intellectually adventurous participants.”
I’m certainly intrigued… So much to chew on here. Not only will the audience be challenged, so will the cast and crew.
Dennis is currently casting the film, and the message I received says that shooting will take place in New York, starting in October of this year (the script will be workshopped with the cast and director for a couple of months before that). So it would appear Dennis is back in New York.
I’ll be emailing him to catch up (hoping he’s at the same email address), and learn even more about the project. Or if you’re reading this Dennis, reach out!
I found a few scenes from the very theatrical As An Act Of Protest on Youtube (Dennis’ theatre background is evident throughout). Check out a couple of them below:

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