Son of Harlem and impresario of the arts

Hannington Dia Special to the AmNews | 5/16/2012, 6:13 p.m.
Son of Harlem and impresario of the arts

Rivers' desire to broaden New Heritage's landscape eventually led to him producing works in more countries such as Asia and Japan, leading to people asking him to become an international producer. However, when he's not producing stage work for art aficionados, Rivers works as an accomplished filmmaker.

Meeting former Black Panther Jamal Joseph after he was released from a prison stint in 1981, the two opened New Heritage Films in 1997, a film company documenting Harlem's history and culture. Having done over 40 films together, their latest is "The Savoy King: Chick Webb and the Music That Changed America."

The documentary opened at the New Heritage Theater on May 11 and covers the Savoy Ballroom, a medium-sized ballroom previously on Lenox Avenue between 140th and 141st streets, where greats like Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald once played.

"We executive produced another documentary we did a few months ago on the life of Sonia Sanchez, which premiered at the AMC Theater," said Rivers. "We continue to document. We filmed on the late Percy Sutton, the Harlem Chamber of Commerce and the Urban League. We've become the kind of go-to guys to do documentaries on organizations and their history."

The duo even created a youth division called Impact Repertory Theater to help young filmmakers break into the big time.

"We created the theater company with a small group of young people. We met every Saturday at the same townhouse right off of Malcolm X Boulevard and 142nd Street. The Impact members now 15 years later have gone on to write, produce and direct their own material. In 2008, they were nominated for an Oscar for Best Song for the film 'August Rush.' A year later, the soundtrack to that movie was nominated for a Grammy. Our young people continue to carry on the legacy that I inherited from Roger Furman."

While Rivers has etched his mark in the entertainment sphere over the last few decades, there's one title he calls himself that he holds in the highest regard, and it ties strongly to his role as an executive producer for the annual Harlem Week.

"Harlem is my home. I'm a son of Harlem, and I continue to work and produce in this community."

For more information on the New Heritage Theater, visit www.newheritagetheater.org.