Art Works Blog

Art Works Podcast: Stanley Nelson

This week's podcast is a talk with award-winning director Stanley Nelson, who’s known for his documentaries about critical historical subjects such as Jonestown and Emmett Till. His recent film, Freedom Riders, continues that exploration. Freedom Riders tells the story of the extraordinarily brave men and women---both black and white---who in 1961 challenged Jim Crow segregation by riding together on interstate buses. In a journey that began in Washington, DC and ended in New Orleans, the Freedom Riders, who were committed to non-violence, were beaten by mobs and jailed by police. Yet the rides continued as others came to take the place of the jailed and the battered. When the buses finally arrived in New Orleans, over 400 black and white Americans had ridden together, and the walls of Jim Crow segregation began to crumble.

In Freedom Riders, Nelson weaves together archival news footage with testimony from the Riders themselves, state and federal government officials, and journalists who covered the story. Running like a thread throughout the film is the music that did so much to bring solace and solidarity to the Freedom Riders as they faced horrific violence.

Freedom Riders was part of the acclaimed PBS series, The American Experience, and was also chosen as one of ten films in the inaugural year of Film Forward, an initiative of the Sundance Institute and the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities. The project presents five American and five foreign films, both narrative and documentary, to audiences in the U.S. and abroad and fosters discussions among the filmmakers and audiences. Film Forward launches its second year on February 26th. Click here for more information.


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