A new documentary about Louisville’s River City Drum Corp Cultural Arts Institute will have its national virtual release Friday.
“River City Drumbeat” follows the youth arts group over the course of two years as it prepares for a leadership transition. According to the film’s website, filmmakers capture Edward “Nardie” White, who founded the organization with his late wife, Zambia Nkrumah, nearly 30 years ago, as he readies to step down “to allow the drum corp to evolve with a new generation.”
White’s next-in-line, Albert Shumake, said he joined the River City Drum Corp when he was eight years old and was a member of the group through high school.
“That’s how I developed myself as an artist and as a leader through working with the drum corps,” Shumake said.
He said the opportunity came at a challenging time in his life: he had only recently returned to his hometown of Louisville, he had just become a father and his mother was dying.
“I was coming home to help my dad out and spend that extra time with my mother,” Shumake said. “So I was going through significant life changes all while this was happening.”
And a part of him was “apprehensive at first” to let a film crew document all of these changes, as well as share his story.
“For me to know my struggles and know my background is okay,” he said. “But for me to put it on display for the rest of the world is a very unnerving thing.”
Shumake eventually felt comfortable with the cameras and crew, which he said “did a very good job of becoming inconspicuous” around him and the young members of the drum corps. He said it ended up being a privilege to have the film crew document him taking the reins from his mentor.
“There were no staged moments,” he said. “They would mic me up and fade into the background. So what got to be documented was my actual life. And I believe that if I can share my life, and share the ups and downs that I’ve been through, that someone else could really gain something out of that.”
White had envisioned the drum corps as a space for Black children to find community through music, in particular traditional African drumming and percussion, and to use those skills to help them achieve their hopes and goals, as stated on the organization’s website.
“Our culture is going to be our savior,” White can be heard saying in the official trailer for the film. “If we tap back into that culture, you’ll find out that’s where the power is at.”
The film is produced and directed by Marlon Johnson and Anne Flatté, and born-and-raised Louisvillian Owsley Brown is also a producer on the documentary.
“The first time I saw the Drum Corps was at a family night. Just seeing the community and the dedication, it was very powerful and we knew immediately that this story needed to be heard,” Flatté told the San Francisco Chronicle’s Datebook.
“I’m a kid who was brought up and saved by arts programming,” Johnson said in the Datebook article. “My neighborhood was similar to the neighborhood that Ed and Albert had grown up in. We got an opportunity to share our life experiences, as both being Black in America and as being artists in America. And Black male artists in America.”
The film was originally supposed to be released at the Louisville Palace in March, but that was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic. Albert Shumake said it’s disappointing that the film didn’t get its original debut with fun and exciting local fanfare, but he’s grateful it can have such a broad reach through virtual releases.
“We hope that when people see the film, they see the possibilities of service, that people can see what happens when you invest time into your community, into the youth of your community,” he said.
The Speed Art Museum’ Speed Cinema is one of institutions across the country streaming the documentary. It’s available Aug. 7 – 23.