'Three Days at Foster' screened in Newnan
by Clay Neely / email@example.com
It was a perfect evening for a movie - the familiar mugginess of a Southern summer evening had finally returned and lent itself to an ideal evening for some indoor entertainment.
Slowly, Wadsworth Auditorium in downtown Newnan filled up Thursday night with an audience that included men and women of all ages as the historic room glowed with the aura of a classic theater.
Dave Dorrell, chair of the Newnan Cultural Arts Commission, greeted the room of attendees for the screening of 'Three Days at Foster' and expressed his enthusiasm in regards to the arts commission being able to present such a feature to the residents of Newnan.
Dorell also acknowledged the timeliness of the evening's feature coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington the day prior, noting that it wasn't planned but instead was a well-timed coincidence.
'Three Days at Foster' tells a powerful true story about the integration of sports at the University of Alabama in the shadow of segregationist Governor George Wallace's stand in the schoolhouse door.
The documentary's director, Keith Dunnavant, took the stage shortly thereafter to acknowledge not only the hard work of the film's production members, but also to thank everyone who contributed financially to the project's Kickstarter campaign, noting they were instrumental in the production of the film.
As a precursor to the forthcoming film, Dunnavant explained the genesis of the project. Working as a magazine editor in New York at the time, he recalled his 1999 visit to Ozark, Ala., for a feature story on Wilbur Jackson, the first African-American signee at the University of Alabama.
It was during this interview that Jackson revealed his own story of returning to the campus the year prior with his daughter and the revelation that she experienced.
It rang a bell with Dunnavant, who saw just how powerful the transition of Alabama culture had come - from the shadows of George Wallace to modern day. It was then that the idea for a feature film took shape and began its 14-year journey to the present.
The lights dimmed as Dunnavant thanked the audience and left the stage.
The 81-minute documentary detailed the slow, begrudging cultural shift of many Alabama natives whose social paradigm eventually evolved through the successes of these trailblazing African-American athletes.
One particular standout scene was Wendell Hudson's story regarding his father, the railroad worker, who devoted his entire life to hard labor in order to ensure that his children would have the tools they would need in order to succeed.
Wendell explained that the gravity of his decision to sign a scholarship with the University of Alabama was not rooted in any political desire to further a Civil Rights movement but was, in fact, meant to release an enormous weight from his father's shoulders, a father who would work as much as he could to ensure his children received the highest education possible.
The personal accounts of the profiled athletes were all sincerely profound and extraordinarily poignant. Dunnavant's film does a wonderful job of exposing the atrocities these players endured while walking the tightrope of athletic success and unintentionally serving as catalysts for societal acceptance.
The film closed to great applause as the credits rolled. Following the screening, a Q&A session with the filmmakers was hosted by the Newnan-Coweta Historical Society at the Depot History Center on East Broad Street, where ice cold bottles of Coca-Cola were in abundance and the room was buzzing with conversation.
Long-time Newnan resident and featured cast member Bill Headley was in attendance.
As a member of the Alabama National Guard, Headley was on campus the day Wallace stood in the doorway.
'I was right there,' Headley recalled. 'Wallace called us up to come up there to come clean up the campus and all this stuff, but it was just political nonsense.'
'It was quite an experience and I thought the movie was a good story. I think a lot of people have forgotten about those days.'
Soon, director Keith Dunnavant, photographer Jonathan Hickman and editor Joe Beamon began the Q&A session - fielding questions from curious attendees.
Hickman, the director of photography and editing, praised the Wadsworth Auditorium and believes the foundation has been laid for future film screenings in the historic hall. 'It's a primo venue with a great sound system.'
When asked about the difficulty in finding participants, Dunnavant elaborated.
'We were fortunate that we could get to them and that they would share their stories for the first time.'
And just what goes into the making of a film like this, with such a small crew but fueled by a grand idea?
Hickman delivered a background on the filming and editing process. ''Three Days at Foster' was shot using three cameras. We conducted 43 interviews, around one hour for each one. So we're looking at roughly 50 hours of interviews and 150 hours of film that had to be edited.'
Beamon commented on the amount of footage that was assembled.
'The editing was an adventure,' Beamon said. 'It almost seemed like a 3 TB (terabyte) external hard drive was almost a daily purchase. We had around 10 TB of storage to cut the movie. Just stacks and stacks of hard drives.'
And the physical exertion of a small crew making a big production?
How about a drive to Chicago for an interview? Two-thousand miles in four days with all the filming equipment in the car.
'Some of the gear was in my lap,' Beamon said.
So what 's next for the filmmakers?
'There are a lot of stories in our own backyard that we could tell,' Hickman said.
'One I see is a movie about Boomer (Danny 'Boomer' Bishop, a beloved Newnan resident who died in April). Every town has that layer, and its those diverse elements that make a community a community,' Hickman said.
'Three Days At Foster' is currently available for purchase through the films website: www.threedaysatfoster.com.