The VO Talk with VIFF Director Paul Saltzman

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We sat and talked for 15 minutes , and I told him that what he was saying was so beautiful: that “in spite of disagreeing with what your daughter's doing, you will never abandon her. Do you know how many parents abandon their kids? Most. They don't like what they do, they disagree with the way they do it, they're not working at the right job, they don't have the right girlfriend, and yet what you're saying is so beautiful, other parents have to hear this. You have to let me film you, so other parents can hear that love for your daughter is more important than her choices”.

He said ok. 

The Billy Joe character, the one you can't see, he wouldn't speak to me for four months. He said to me at one point, “leave me alone”. But finally, about a week before the end, I was sitting in the hall of the school, and he came by and I asked him how he was doing. I told him I still wanted to interview him, and he said “maybe”. I asked him what it would take. He said we'd have to change his voice and hide his face, because otherwise his parents would disown him and he couldn't afford that.  

We went that afternoon to a house away from the school and shot that interview. Those two, Glen and Billy Joe, both happened in the last week of being there for almost five months. 

VO: I'd like to ask what the most memorable moment of filming was?

PS: Without any question, it was... well there were three. The interview with Glen and the beauty of what he was saying. The Billy Joe interview, because that's how articulate this kid was. The interview went on quite a bit longer but his articulation was just amazing. His thought process, his honesty and openness was just remarkable, and that was absolutely a highlight. The main highlight of all, really, was the prom because it was as joyful and fun as you see on camera. And just for them triumphantly have their first integrated prom, and it be no problem at all, and the white and black kids mixing and the joyfulness, it was just fabulous!

VO: that prom was 2008...

PS: So this year, 2009, we went back and filmed and there is an educational DVD package that is being used by teachers in the States, with terrific results. It becomes a real opener to dialogue.

VO: can you tell us how we can get hold of a copy?

PS: Through our web site. In the educational package you get an extra 20 minute film of what happened in 2009. It's called Prom Night in Mississippi One Year Later.  

There was an integrated prom again and it was a big success. Some white parents still wouldn't let their kids go, and again, there was a white prom.  

One of the questions we get asked most from young people when we're in schools and screenings and festivals, is the one you asked, “what happened the following year”, but the second most frequent question is, “are Heather and Jeremy still together?” and then “Are TJ and Jessica still together”

Yes, both couples are still together. We caught up with each of the kids in the film, one year later, so we find out what they're doing too.

VO: how is your film being received?

PS: It's very thrilling and very fulfilling. We made it out of our savings because we wanted to do it that way. We wanted to have the freedom to make the film without having to go look for money first, because there was no time. We just had to dive in.

HBO picked it up and it's been the highest rated of their documentaries all year, and they're thrilled.  

The response has been over the top. It's been just terrific. People are entertained, delighted, moved, and thoughtful, and hopeful. People tell us they come out of the film saying it gave them so much hope.  Then they start talking about their own attitudes and thinking and prejudices.

The words on our web site state that Nothing Changes Until You Do. The reason we made this film was to generally, hopefully encourage people, especially young people, to look at their own attitudes, beliefs, and prejudices. Because Patricia (wife and co-producer) and I believe that there isn't a human being alive on the planet with zero prejudices. And without looking at them, as Morgan says, these are chains around our souls. If we don't look at them we won't see them.

If we look at them, then we at least have the choice of what we'd like to do with them.

VO: can I ask you about your future. Are you planning a continuation of this project?

PS: We are working pretty much 24/7 on the outreach. The web site is being developed more and more. The educational DVDs are going to be ready in three weeks and start going out to schools and libraries  in Universities. 

We're being brought in to Universities to screen, talk and do master classes in documentary filmmaking. And we're having our theatrical opening in Toronto on November 13th, and you're the first to know that Morgan is coming up. He just agreed yesterday to come up. Then we're going to open in Vancouver and and Montreal. The dates haven't been set yet, but sometime late November. 

VO: will Mr. Freeman be in Vancouver for the screening?

PS: No, he will be out promoting the new Clint Eastwood film, in which he plays Nelson Mandela.

VO: you had mentioned in a previous conversation that Mr. Freeman had won a Golden Icon award...

PS: Yes, that was in Zurich. I was asked to give it to him. We only found out about this, but it turns out that they first thought of giving him a Golden Icon award because they saw Prom Night in Mississippi at Sundance.  

That, combined with his whole career, what he's done in foundations, humanitarian work, plus the story in our film, that gave them the emphasis. They asked me to come over to present it to him so on the closing night, the last award of the evening was me presenting him with the Golden Icon award.

It was just phenomenal. There was a long standing ovation for him. Wonderful. He's a great guy. 

 

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