Cousin Bobby (1992)

Cousin Bobby (1992)

March 26, 2017 · Regal Riviera · 12:00 P.M.

Cousin Bobby, an hourlong film made with what proves to be deceptive nonchalance, shares with these other projects an unwavering intensity and strong sense of purpose. Most important, it shows off Mr. Demme’s unusual ability to draw audiences close to the subjects he embraces.”–Janet Maslin, The New York Times

It speaks volumes about his vision and curiosity that Jonathan Demme’s first project after the massive success of The Silence of the Lambs was the intimate documentary portrait, Cousin Bobby. Demme’s cousin, Fr. Robert Castle, is an Episcopal priest and activist based in Harlem. Transformed by the social upheaval of the 1960s and a friendship with Isaih Rowley, a Black Panther leader, Castle tries to live out the Gospel by fighting for the Harlem community where his parish is based and attacking institutionalized racism where he sees it. Such commitment, not surprisingly, has come at a price.

The first in a series of political portraits that Demme would go on to produce (The Agronomist, Jimmy Carter: Man from Plains, and I’m Carolyn Parker are others), it is also his most personal. The film was produced in 1992 for a Spanish production company and broadcast on PBS in the United States. Cousin Bobby now has no distributor–it was never released on DVD and is currently unavailable commercially in any form. Perhaps it’s not surprising that, when asked in a 2013 interview what film of his he thought was undervalued or “ripe for rediscovery,” Demme singled this one out. We are honored to be able to screen a new digital transfer of Demme’s personal copy of this underseen title. Twenty five years later, its themes remain terribly relevant.

Cousin Bobby screened as part of our 11-film Jonathan Demme retrospective, Life is Performance / Performance is Life, at Big Ears.