MARC LEVIN AND THE LAND OF THE LOST: Documenting Urban America
Marc Levin is a seeker. Alternately known as an urban archaeologist, anthropologist and an investigative reporter, Marc is on a mission to find the truth. The seasoned filmmaker and documentarian has been pulling back proverbial curtains of controversy for over 25 years.
Marc Levin is an award-winning filmmaker responsible for some of the most provocative storytelling of our time. Known for his knack to combine compelling narrative with a clever cinema verite style, Levin’s films, television shows and documentaries all share one common theme. They are indelibly real.
Born with production chops, he takes after his father Alan Levin who was also an award-winning filmmaker for PBS and HBO, as well as a journalist for the Associated Press and the New York Post. Marc even had the pleasure of partnering up with his dad to create the film Portrait of an American Zealot that was made a part of the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent film collection in 1982. Since then, he has received various Emmy awards and nominations for his work in documentary television, including the WCBS TV Special The Wall Street Connection in 1985. Levin has also produced and directed several specials for Bill Moyers, one of America’s most respected journalists, garnering him an Emmy for Secret Government – The Constitution in Crisis in 1988.
That year, Levin created Blowback Productions with partner Daphne Pinkerson and has never looked back. “Blowback” is code for unintended consequences or covert operations that boomerang or backfire. Together they have made a powerful storytelling team and over 20 unique films.
Some of the titles under his production include the The Last Party, where Levin directed Robert Downey, Jr. in the wild gonzo presidential campaign flick, and the groundbreaking spoken-word inspired prison film, Slam, which won the Grand Jury Prize at the Sundance Film Festival and the Camera D’or at Cannes in 1998. The list is far too long to recite, however, many may be familiar with recent television projects like Brick City on Sundance Channel and Chicagoland on CNN. Here, Marc Levin, along with long time producer partner Mark Benjamin and film crew follow Super-Mayors Cory Booker of Newark, and Rahm Emmanuel of Chicago to identify the thread of change and repair in violent, disrupted urban communities.
“We’ve found a style that is a kind of urban storytelling wove multiple stories into one organic fabric.” Says Levin about the Sarajevo style of filmmaking. Levin won a Peabody and got nominated for an Emmy, but other networks thought the show was too intense. This led Levin to partner with Robert Redford and Laura Michalchyshyn to get the 8-hour docu-series Chicagoland aired on CNN earlier this year.
No stranger to Chicago’s rustbelts, Levin also partnered with Martin Scorsese to produce Godfathers and Sons, part of the highly regarded PBS series entitled The Blues. Shortly after, Levin Executive Produced the well executed but overlooked Chicago blues biopic, Cadillac Records, starring Jeffrey Wright, Adrian Brody, Mos Def and Beyonce Knowles.
“We are chronicling from the urban perspective, the stories from the street to City Hall, at a time when there’s a revolution going on, in the whole way the world works and the global economy. Just like a hundred years ago when the industrial revolution started and it changed the world. This globalization, automation, digitalization is changing the world. It’s turning it upside down. Now, how you ride that wave of change is what we’re chronicling.”
Currently, Levin is gearing up for his latest release, Freeway: Crack In The System, the story of Freeway Rick Ross that will be revealed in select theaters nationwide on October 17th.
Not to be confused with the rapper, William Leonard Roberts, Freeway refers to the original crack kingpin from California, Ricky Ross. The story goes far beyond the petty social media beef of the rapper stealing the iconic drug lord’s name. It dives into a sincere tale about illiteracy and survival in the tough poverty stricken streets of South Central, Los Angeles. In the unveiling tradition of Billy Corben’s Cocaine Cowboys, Levin goes further to penetrate the implications of the CIA, particularly relating to the Iran-Contra scandal during the Reagan era. Similar to his exploits of Harlem drug kingpin, Nicky Barnes in the 2007 documentary film Mr. Untouchable, Levin manages to convey an alternate version of reality, or perhaps the harshest view, of the menacing nature of politics, drugs and the Government. Gritty and transparent, a brand signature stained on all of Levin’s projects, the film grants a sense of empathy while instilling hope for generations of lost souls.
“We feel we’re just scratching the surface.” Insists Levin. “People are ready for more complex, more artistically ambitious, non-fiction narrative storytelling. When you think back to the 60’s and 70’s, a lot of novelists, (such as) Norman Mailer, Tom Wolfe, Truman Capote, they took their skills of novel writing and they applied it to the real world. They started writing what were called non-fiction novels. Mailer did it with Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test, Truman Capote, In Cold Blood. That was a radical move. They brought the tools of storytelling and the craft of writing to what was happening, because they felt reality was moving at such a pace, that even the human imagination couldn’t keep up with how fast things were changing.”