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  • NYS Writers Institute

Stanley Nelson, director of "Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool"

We got back in touch with Stanley Nelson, major documentary filmmaker and director of the current Netflix hit, "Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool." Praised by Filmmaker magazine as "unflinchingly raw but also deeply moving," the documentary premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in 2019.

Stanley visited us at the University at Albany in April 2017 with his acclaimed documentary, "The Black Panthers: Vanguards of the Revolution."

He and his wife, Marcia Smith, continue to nurture the next generation of filmmakers of color with the resources of their production company, Firelight Media, based in Harlem.

Q: How can students make the best use of their time during these days of social distancing?

A: Watch a lot of movies! I'm sure there are many foreign directors, classic films, things you haven't seen. Many of these things are easily available through different sites and programs (Netflix, Hulu, Criterion Collection). Use your library access, if possible! Now's a great time to develop some of your own projects as well.

Q: Is there anything in particular you'd like us to watch?

A: Watch "Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool" on Netflix. It's my latest film, and I'm really proud of it.

Listen to the "Miles Davis: Birth of the Cool" soundtrack

Q: Do you have a favorite piece of writing for these times?

A: This short piece from Toni Morrison is a touchstone for a lot of writers in darker times: "No Place for Self-Pity, No Room for Fear" in The Nation, March 23, 2015.

Many people are, while they quarantine, turning to artists. To movies and shows and books. People should be reading whatever they can use as a reminder to keep creating during these times when very little makes sense. Your work is necessary.

Q: Is there any action you would like us to take?

A: I think any way that students can find to support your fellow students, those who are less fortunate than you are, living alone, then you should tap into those networks and reach out. Also, wash your hands. Honestly, I think it's important that we take this situation seriously. Misinformation has been spread about this virus and how it "doesn't impact young people," but it does.

Q: Any news from your life?

A: Firelight is still working on projects and how to support our community of filmmakers at this time. We're wrapping up a project on the crack epidemic for Netflix, while we're working from home. We're hunkered down, and staying home, and thinking about what's next.

The New YorkerMiles Davis: Birth of the Cool - August 22, 2019 

More Stanley Nelson:

Miles Davis played in clubs, concert halls, colleges, and festivals from 1947 through 1991. Have you ever seen him live in concert? Best jazz concerts you've attended?


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