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May 2004
With All Deliberate Speed: An Interview with Director Peter Gilbert

By Wilson Morales

With All Deliberate Speed: An Interview with Director Peter Gilbert

Coming out on May 14th in limited markets (NY, LA, Chicago, Boston and Washington D.C) is a documentary focusing on the landmark Brown V Board of Education Supreme Court ruling. The film "With All Deliberate Speed" is to coincide with the week of the 50th anniversary (May 17th) of this historical legislative decision. The director of this extraordinary is Peter Gilbert who has perhaps best known for being one of the filmmakers who made the internationally acclaimed, award-winning film Hoop Dreams. I recently spoke to Peter in regards to his input for "With All Deliberate Speed".

Why take on such a project?

PG: I think it's an incredible important story that needs to be told, and be continually told, and have a place in the schools and history books. So, I was really excited, but also some of the films I make deal, on some level, deal with race in America. That's my interest in filmmaking so here's a film that would allow me to do that.

What about the people you decided to focus on? How did you come about in choosing them?

PG: With Brown (vs. Board of Education), you can do a miniseries on, and I took two cases that, for me and my point of view, was the crux of the Brown case, the people from Cleridan County, South Carolina and the people from Farmville, Virginia and Prince Edward County. These were the two first cases that made up the five cases of Brown and they were the early cases and they were the ones that were in the South and it was where people had the most to lose and the most to risk and I think what they did was really incredibly courageous. And so Farmville for me was amazing because it was a student-led strike in 1951. It was the students who basically said enough is enough and we have to get better facilities and we have to have equal facilities and a better education. With Cleridan County, it was so amazing and simple cause the people there, who came back from the war from fighting, and their kids couldn't get to school. They had to walk 7 miles a day and they decided they wanted a school bus and that's how these two events changed the path that America has taken today and so I was fascinated by it.

Documentaries usually take a long time to produce. What were some of the challenges on this film?

PG: This is an interesting tale. I only got this film agreed to around October 1st. So what I had was a really short period of time to turn around a very powerful film. They had a short period of time because I had a hard deadline of May 14th and May 17th because of the anniversary. So it was a real challenge to do a film in that's short period of time.

This film will be shown in limited cities such as New York, Chicago, Detroit, and Los Angeles. Were there any challenges to having the film play nationwide?

PG: If you get five cities to release a documentary, then that's a good thing and hopefully it will be shown in other places. We will do special screenings, especially throughout the South and it won't go to television for another 6 months so we have six months to build a groundswell for it.

How else would you like to promote the film to bring in a young audience to learn about this historical moment?

PG: It's not total historical. It's historical in a way that I tried to keep it in a modern frame of mind. There are a lot of kids in the film who are like kids of today that talk about race, prejudice, economics, patriotism and who I think are interesting because they talk about it in a such a straight forward way that I don't think most kids get to see themselves represented anymore on film or in the media. They're intelligent human beings rather than stereotyped. And, at the same time, they don't have answers, they're just grappling with the same issues that we all have been grappling with, which is race relations, and in my mind, it's the underbelly of our society. It's an important issue that we have to continue discussing, so it's great to still these young kids still discussing it. I think that's one of the legacies of Brown (vs. Board of Education), that people are still talking about what's going on in America and it's maybe more of an open discussion now than it was 50 years ago. The other thing we have done is that some of the other people obviously that were filming over 50 years ago have passed away, so rather than do the classic documentary thing and read under a picture the words of these folks, we brought in some really talented actors to some readings to camera so that you get a sense who these people were and what they might have sounded like. We put a modern spin to it, so we have Mekhi Phifer, Larenz Tate, Terry Kinney, Joe Morton and Alicia Keys and hopefully this will draw some younger folks in.



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