Everyone Knew His Name. Now Hear His Story

Legendary graffiti artist Cool Disco Dan tagged the gritty D.C. streets for decades, but his life was always a mystery—until now.

Cool Disco Dan Nedham Smith

TR: Why did you decide to cast Dan’s story against such an historic backdrop of the city itself?

JP: Once we researched Dan, and researched his story. His story starts in the ’60s with the riots. We need to let people know how D.C. became a Chocolate City, and what happened when D.C. started to let these buildings [deteriorate]. We wanted to have a very diverse group of people in the documentary, from musicians, go-go bands, punk bands. Dan’s story is his story. We wouldn’t change that.

TR: How did you get Dan involved in the project?

RG: We would stay in touch with him. He’d disappear, but when Dan wants to be found, he lets himself be found. At first, we said, “Dan, let’s do a full book.” He said, good. We started researching around 2000. We worked with him, two years plus. But then in 2005, we said, “Why don’t we film this, because D.C. is changing so much?” This project has been a giant labor of love. It’s been really, really long.

TR: Where is Dan today?

RG: He is doing better right now than he was probably a year ago. I think that this whole project has been up and down for him. It’s been an up-and-down process for all of us. He’s currently in a stable situation and receiving treatment. He’s had such a great attitude and has been so happy with this film.

JP: We’re really happy that he’s trusted us to do this.

Teresa Wiltz is a journalist based in Washington, D.C.