BiographyTHEODORE R. LIFE JR.
Distinguished Director in Residence, Theodore R. Life Jr. was born in Harlem, New York but when his father’s job moved to Westchester County, he grew up in White Plains. He graduated with honors from Woodlands High School in Hartsdale, New York. He attended Tufts University and received a double BA in Drama and Sociology and enriched his education with a course in Cinema Studies at Harvard. He later traveled to Ibadan, Nigeria and earned a Post-Graduate diploma in Theater Arts after a year of study.
He went on to study film at New York University where he received his M.F.A. before starting a career in film. His first ethnographic documentaries on West Africa and the Caribbean have won him international praise. His work has been exhibited at the prestigious Montreal Film Festival, the Leicester Film Festival, the Ninth Festival of New Cinema in Brussels and the Festival of New Cinema in Caracas, Venezuela and the Toronto Super 8 Film Festival. His documentaries are part of the permanent collections of many schools and libraries.
Starting his career in features, he worked on the epic RAGTIME and later TRADING PLACES starring Eddie Murphy. He later produced and directed REUNION, starring Academy Award winner, Denzel Washington. He also directed the widely acclaimed AIDS awareness film, SERIOUSLY FRESH, starring NY Under cover’s Malik Yoba.
In television, Mr. Life worked as a segment producer for Essence Television and produced and directed “Sweet Auburn” for America’s Black Forum. He also served as Director and Production Executive for “The Cosby Show” and Director of “A Different World”.
Awarded a NEA Creative Artist Fellowship, he traveled to Japan and spent six months. The overwhelmingly positive experience led him to produce his first work in Japan.
Entitled STRUGGLE AND SUCCESS: THE AFRICAN AMERICAN EXPERIENCE IN JAPAN, the program chronicles the lives of African Americans who have chosen to make Japan their home. The program has been widely acclaimed in both Japan and the United States. Broadcast twice on NHK in Japan and on their satellite channel in England, it has also been seen on PBS nationwide. The program has also been exhibited all over America via a national tour sponsored by the National Association of Japan Societies and toured Japan courtesy of the American Centers. The program is now in widespread educational distribution.
Mr. Life’s second work was DOUBLES: JAPAN AND AMERICA’S INTERCULTURAL CHILDREN. This work examined the experience of the children on Japanese and American’s since the turn of the century until today. This program was broadcast 3 times on NHK and nationwide on PBS.
Mr. Life completed a third documentary, AFTER AMERICA...AFTER JAPAN, a film that chronicles the saga of re-entry for Americans and Japanese. The film has played to standing room only crowds in New York and Tokyo.
Currently in development is COCKTAIL PARTY, adapted from the Akutagawa Prize winning novel of the same title. Mr. Life spent five years researching this latest film via a Fulbright Journalist fellowship and two Japan Foundation fellowships. COCKTAIL PARTY details the complicated relationship between the US military stationed in Okinawa and the local residents.
In addition to his work for public television, Professor Life produced a special tribute to former Prime Minister of Japan, Kiichi Miyazawa. He also wrote and produced NATIVE SON, based on the life and work of Richard Wright, as part of the “Great Books” series for the Learning Channel of Discovery Networks.
APPRAISALS and IMPACT OF THE WORK IN JAPAN
On STRUGGLE AND SUCCESS:
“Illuminating and thoroughly engaging” Kevin Thomas, LA Times
“Dares to walk where angels fear to tread, on the complicated interface between African Americans and the Japanese through insightful interviews and wise commentary. The success of this video can be measured by the wide acclaim from experienced interculturalists on both sides of the Pacific.” JANET BENNETT, Intercultural Communications Institute.
“Regge Life has a gigantic talent for introducing us to dimensions of Japan we never have examined closely before, where interracial communities find eloquent voice. DOUBLES is a masterful treatment of mixed blood individuals whose lives, more than not, have been enriched by being products of two cultures. The film, like its subjects, ultimately transcends Japan. It inspires us to contemplate the richness, potential and unpredictability of the human experience”. DR. JOHN DOWER, Professor of History, author of “War Without Mercy”.
“Regge Life has produced another profoundly moving film about the nuances of cultural blending and ethnicity....he elicits compelling commentary from an astounding wide range of interview subjects. The film is distinguished by their honesty and fearlessness. Despite the pain that shines, inescapably, through the tears or the rage or some of them, the film’s powerful message is a hopeful one. Rejecting the term, “half” still used pejoratively in Japan to describe Japanese of mixed blood, they call themselves “Doubles” and claim thereby twice the beauty, twice the culture, twice the strength and intelligence of those who lack their mixture of blood and heritage. The speakers in this fine film are beautiful, articulate, wise and courageous. No sensitive viewer of DOUBLES can doubt that the future is theirs”. PETER GRILLI, Producer of “The Japanese Garden” and “Music for the Movies: Toru Takemitsu”.
“DOUBLES” explores sensitively and honestly a subject long neglected and almost taboo in the United States and Japan. These interviews with people born of mixed parentage in Japan and America speak from a variety of perspectives and represent many different generations. This documentary should be required viewing, especially for all who think ethnicity is essentially a Black/Caucasian issue”. The late DR. JACKSON BAILEY, Professor of History and founder of the Institute for Education on Japan.
On AFTER AMERICA...AFTER JAPAN:
AFTER AMERICA...AFTER JAPAN is the latest work from producer/director Regge Life. Those who already know Mr. Life’s work need not be told about the uncanny accuracy of his illuminating and accessibly articulated insights into Japan. The same is true of his confident grasp of such difficult and volatile issues as race, ethnicity and gender, both in themselves and in cross-cultural settings. His newest film does much to reconfirm his already well-deserved reputation as one of the most important documentary filmmakers working today.
Charles L. Yates, Director, Earlham College Institute for Education on Japan
“This film gets us far beyond the conventional notion of culture shock into nuanced, subtle frames of identity and awareness of distinction, nationhood and culture.” Merry White, Professor of Anthropology, Boston University/Harvard University
“AFTER AMERICA...AFTER JAPAN is a fascinating conclusion to Regge Life’s path-breaking trilogy dealing with Japan’s place in a multicultural world. No other filmmaker has explored the themes of cultural and racial interaction centering on Japan with such sensitivity. He has opened our eyes to rarely imagined experiences, and introduced us to the promises as well as difficulties of new realms of cosmopolitan activity.”
John W. Dower, Author, Embracing Defeat: Japan in the Wake of World War II
APPRAISALS AND IMPACT OF SELECTED WORKS IN FILM
Before the release of A SOLDIERS STORY and GLORY, REUNION showcased the extraordinary talents of Denzel Washington in a dramatic role. The film featured a numerous festivals in the US and abroad has been heralded as the first glimpse of a film star on the rise. Winner of the Leigh Whipper Gold Award at the Philafilm Festival in 1989.
On THE STORY OF JOE BARBOZA:
Commissioned by the NBC network as part of the prime time program, “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” this film recreated the story of the mafia hit man whose protection inaugurated the Witness Protection Program. The show was one of highest rated episodes for this series.
On SERIOUSLY FRESH:
Commissioned by the Public Broadcasting System to promote A.I.D.S. awareness during the midst of the epidemic in the late 1980’s. The film which won a CINE Golden Eagle and a Certificate of Merit from the Chicago Film Festival was broadcast nationally on PBS, presented by WNET in New York and was later used in educational distribution to build awareness in secondary and high schools around the nation.
On NATIVE SON:
Commissioned by Discovery Networks for the Learning Channel, this was the first film to dramatize portions of the original novel that were removed by the Book of the Month Club in the initial printing. The film revealed Bigger Thomas in a different light and confirmed that Wright’s intention was a “love scene” between Bigger and Mary that goes tragically wrong and not a callous murder. The show was broadcast on numerous occasions to strong numbers and was also seen internationally. The film won the Best Black Film at the Berlin Black Film Festival and Best Film at the Albany Short Film Festival.
APPRAISALS AND IMPACT OF SELECTED WORKS IN TELEVISION
On THE COSBY SHOW:
As a creative and production participant in the first “Cosby Show” the show broke all records in television for ratings. I am particularly proud of my tenure as Production Executive which allowed me to be a part of the day to day operations from story pitch to final completion for broadcast.
On SESAME STREET:
In my three seasons as director, I had the pleasure to collaborate with an outstanding group of creative people on the number one show for children. I was privileged to be the first director for “Elmo’s World” now an integral portion of the continuing series.
This NBC program was the first to feature a story line centered on an African American family. As one of the original directors for the show, I took part in shaping the look and style of the program. This show, like “Cosby” helped to redefine the image of African Americans.
On SWEET AUBURN:
Produced for America’s Black Forum, hosted by Julian Bond and Charlayne Hunter-Gault, the film showcased Atlanta’s famed boulevard that that the birthplace of Dr. Martin Luther King and the street where many African American business were started and thrived. Featuring Vernon Jordan, Andrew Young and the late Maynard Jackson, the one hour special gave chronicled the era of African American empowerment in business, communications and politics.
On THE HOMELESS:
As a segment producer/director for Essence Magazine’s first TV show hosted by Susan Taylor and Felipe Luciano, I was in charge of the hard news stories anchored by Mr. Luciano. This show exposed the homeless crisis in New York City as a growing epidemic. Homelessness was no longer the plight of the so called “skid row bum”, average middle class Americans, particularly people of color, were becoming homeless.
Areas of Research / Professional Expertise
Theater, Film and Television production
Cycling and I love dogs
Published: Dec 05, 2019 by Berkshire Eagle
Authors: Resident Theater critic
News of 3 big wins for "Top Dog/Underdog" by the Berkshire Theater Critics Association
By: Regge Life
Subjects: Theater, Theatre & Performance Studies
My production of Suzan Lori Park's "Top Dog/Underdog" won top honors at the recent Berkshire Critics Awards
OUTSTANDING ENSEMBLE PERFORMANCE
OUTSTANDING PRODUCTION OF THE YEAR