Sunday, March 8, 2015

Looking for an antidote to Ava DuVernay's Hollywood-ified Selma? Try Bill Brummel's SPLC doc SELMA: THE BRIDGE TO THE BALLOT

If you were, as was I, disappointed by Selma -- last year's fictionalized bio-pic about events leading up to that famous march to gain the Black vote in Alabama -- I highly recommend a new 40-minute documentary short on the same subject that manages to be richer and more truthful, dramatic, moving and important, simply by being concise and telling its tale in the words of some of those people who actually participated in the event.

SELMA: THE BRIDGE TO THE BALLOT is a film made by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), directed by Bill Brummel (shown at left), and narrated by Oscar-winner Octavia Spencer. Via reminiscence, fine archival footage and occasional animation, Brummel and his crew place us smack in the middle of it all, giving us an excellent understanding of why this was so important in its time and how, almost suddenly, various events coalesced into a civil rights action that became unstoppable.

Hearing the words of the participants (spoken quite well by the performers rounded up for the task) along side the moving and still shocking archival footage brings real punch to this short film, without any of the "movie" cliches -- actors who, to a man and woman, seem much more attractive than their real life counter-parts; life goosed into "drama" for purposes of telescoping; the rousing, feel-good finale -- that turn Selma into a kind of movieland pseudo-history.

Even that Oscar-winning song strikes me as rather paltry against the great music we hear in this short doc. In any case, the facts presented here tie events together quite well and include some things we didn't see in Selma: the forced march of black students out of town, the white sheriff hospitalized, torrential downpours and protesters having to sleep in the mud (there's a great shot of a pair of shoes barely held together).

The cavalier and nasty face of racism is on full display; as the protests increased, so did the brutality. At the beginning of it all, we hear from the SNCC: "The white folk here are too mean, and the black folks are too scared." Amen to that. But then, change began. This little film tells it like it was and, in the process, brings home the bacon.

Where and how can you see Selma: The Bridge to the Ballot? The film has had limited showings in both New York City and in the Los Angeles area. It is now slated to be shown to students in thousands of classrooms nationwide, with nearly 20,000 educator orders placed already. Additional community screenings will be held for moviegoers but the dates and locations have not been announced yet. For further information, contact the SPLC and/or its Teaching Tolerance web sites by clicking on the links above, or go the link here, which offers the trailer for the film, as well as details for civic organizations that work with voter registration and can order the film for free showings. 

No comments: