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Writer/director Rodney Evans, in his feature debut, follows the emotional journey of Perry (Anthony Mackie), a young artist who discovers the hidden legacies of gay subculture within the Harlem Renaissance. Rejected by his family after being found in a sexual encounter with another man, Perry becomes withdrawn. When he meets Bruce (Roger Robinson), a poet at the homeless shelter where he works, he gains a stronger sense of his own identity after hearing the man's tales of being Black, gay and unashamed. Winner of three 2004 Outfest Awards and a Special Jury Prize at the 2004 Sundance Film Festival.

 Fading Into Memory:
 Brother To Brother and
 the Love Between Generations

The memories I have of Bruce Nugent are elusive at best. Throughout the past seven months of screening my feature film Brother To Brother on the festival circuit, I have been constantly asked what the inspiration for the film was. Most of all it seems like it was this strange intersection of my life with his and a profound love I developed for him even though we’d never met and he passed away in 1987 when I was sixteen years old.

In 1987, when Bruce was probably at his weakest, I was browsing through an aisle at the St. Mark’s Bookstore. I pulled a book from the shelf entitled In The Life, opening to an essay that caught my attention—“Bruce Nugent: Bohemian of the Harlem Renaissance.” As I finished reading those pages and placed the book back on the shelf I remember thinking to myself, “This guy’s really interesting. I need to come back to him.”

Roger Robinson, the actor who plays Bruce Nugent in his elderly years, describes a deep sense of loss that seemed integral to who Bruce was towards the end of his life. As we both did our research to bring him to life on screen, it was this sense of loss that we both seemed to connect with. If we were both going to do justice to his story we were going to have to delve deeply into this feeling we got from him.

The more I learned about Bruce in my two years of writing and research, the more I knew the structure and form of the film would have to mirror the complex and poetic nature of his mind. There were many forms of knowledge that he seemed to synthesize—moving from the bars of New York’s Lower East Side where he seduced straight Italian gangsters, to the hotels of high society Washington where he passed for white, to the anthropology classes of Franz Boas that he attended during the 1920s at Columbia University, to the scandalous gay rent parties during the Harlem Renaissance. Bruce saw the ways that the street corner philosopher and the academic scholar had so much to gain by listening to each other. He was open-minded enough to find the connections between these disparate realms.

Thus, the content and form of Brother To Brother needed to encompass the exploratory nature of Nugent’s life and worldview. The various narrative strands would need to somehow coalesce into a meaningful and unified whole. Nugent’s mind seemed to take him into fantastical worlds and the film would have to do the same for the audience. The standard cradle to grave biopic would not suffice. It had to be something that was as unique and idiosyncratic as Nugent and yet also integrate the burgeoning love that I felt for him as I delved deeper into his life, a love that moved outside of the normal logic of space and time. Thus, the younger fictional character of Perry came into being and the emotional heart of the film would be the evolving love between these two characters. Some of my personal experiences would be used as the launching pad into imagining Perry’s contemporary world. The present-day narrative would then subtly parallel Bruce’s youthful experiences during his coming-of-age during the Harlem Renaissance. These parallels needed to evoke the feelings I had as I learned more and more about Bruce’s life and began to think of him as my doppelganger—someone who had similar thoughts as he walked the same New York City streets generations before me.

The more I learned about Bruce Nugent in making Brother To Brother, the more I knew there would always be aspects of his life that were unknowable. Yet my curiosity about him kept the momentum going for the six long years it took to complete the film. As the last frame flickers in projectors across the country this fall, it is my hope that audiences will leave the theatre with that same feeling of wanting to know more.