POV 20 - "Revolution '67"
On Saturday, I saw an important documentary at the Museum of the Moving Image (MMI) called Revolution '67, about one of the many riots that took place in several urban areas throughout the U.S. in the 196os, this one in particular in Newark, New Jersey, where racial tensions, economic disparities and political corruption were among many other elements that lead to the tragic days in the summer of 1967. According to a press release, "After six days, 26 people lay dead, 725 people were injured, and close to 1,500 people had been arrested." Revolution '67 is a production of Newark-based husband-and-wife filmmakers Marylou Tibaldo-Bongiorno and Jerome Bongiorno. They document the account of various people from all sides of the story who lived through the tragic days with animated charts of statistical data and re-enactments. Revolution '67 will air on the PBS television series P.O.V. as part of its 20th season on July 10. Check your local listings.
On a side note, after the Q&A, I spoke with Marylou and Jerome outside the museum where I talked with Marylou about one of the other cities where riots ensued during the '60s mentioned in the film, that being Rochester, NY, where my father grew up and my late grandmother worked at the city's public library. I told Marylou that my family has a collection of books from the city's late historian, which I have yet to read, and I'm interested to find out if they talk about the riots that occurred there. I plan to look through these books next time I go home to visit my family.
And on an even less related, but not too far between note, Marylou introduced me to her friend Luci, who I recognized from somewhere, and so I asked Marylou if the guy Luci came with was Scott, she said yes, and I realized they were Luci Westphal and Scott Solary of Good Hard Working People, the folks that shot The Reeler TV videos during the Tribeca Film Festival. Big thanks to their friend /writer/actor/filmmaker Jason Nunes who gave me a lift back with them to Brooklyn.
My notes from the Q&A follow.
Marylou: I don't have a memory of it. I was only four years old. I grew up in the shadow of city that was scarred, but the events that took place were palpable.
David: What did you learn from making Revolution '67?
Marylou: It was very much an eye opener. It wasn't just about a single day. It stemmed back several decades.
Jerome: Before making the documentary, we made a short film at NYU called "1967" about a black sniper shooting at vigilantes. We thought it was true. People asked us to re-examine the facts of the events.
David: What did you learn from going back in history?
Marylou: Went back as far as slavery. Never heard of bank redlining before. This put everything into an economic perspective.
David: Can you talk about the music choices in the film?
Jerome: The music was very important. It added inspiration. We used a lot of jazz, because Newark is a big jazz town.
Marylou: The music is eclectic, from all over the world. It made for a hard job for Jerome to edit the film.
David: How long was the process of making the documentary?
Marylou: It took us four years. Every interviewee led us to someone else.
Marylou: There were 150 cities in 1967 alone. 3,000 altogether in the 1960s. We're trying to get the federal government to help situations in cities where there's poverty, which is a big issue.
David: Can you talk about how the documentary is being adapted into a narrative feature film? What will be different about the narrative version?
Marylou: Before the documentary, we made a short film at NYU. Spike Lee was my teacher. The script for the feature has been written, and Spike Lee is the executive producer. The narrative version will have more characters.
Q: Where did you get the archival footage from? Were there any problems getting it?
Q: How did you get funding?
Marylou: We started modestly. Received grants from the New Jersey Historical Commission for $3,000. Did some grass roots efforts in Newark with local corporations there. The first was with Prudential. ITVS came in later with a larger grant, then P.O.V. came aboard as a co-producer.
Cynthia Lopez (VP of P.O.V. in audience): You can go to the "for producers" page at pov.org and pbs.org to learn about ways to apply for public funding.
Q: How has the Newark community accepted the documentary?
Marylou: People have been really emotional. At other screenings in Newark, there really haven't been any Q&As. People talked more about the anger they had in an open dialogue. Some people suggested the film should be shown in schools. The Mayor of Newark will have free screenings of it in the Central Ward.
Q: Did you have an idea of what you wanted the story to be about before you began?
Marylou: It changed a great deal. It started out all being chronological, but then became more epic by adding more dimensions.
Jerome: What's on screen was our own education of what the riots meant.
Note: An audience member also commented on Former Newark Mayor Sharpe James’ probable indictment for corruption. The filmmakers leave Sharpe James to speak for himself in the film when he says that “You have to evaluate those who serve in elected positions, see if, in fact, they are about the community; they are about bringing about change that will benefit the entire city and not just themselves.”