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On June 7, 1998, the most vicious racially motivated murder since the 1955 lynching of Emmett Till occurred in Jasper, Texas. James Byrd, an African American, was chained to a pick-up truck and dragged behind it for three miles until his body disintegrated. Three white men from Jasper, with ties to white supremacist groups, were arrested and later convicted for the crime.
TWO TOWNS OF JASPER is a feature length documentary about the murder of James Byrd Jr., slated for a P.O.V. special broadcast on PBS in early 2003. The film received funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, The Independent Television Service, The National Black Programming Consortium, The Wellspring Foundation, and The Richard H. Driehaus Foundation.
A collaborative effort between a black and a white filmmaker, filmed from January through December 1999, TWO TOWNS OF JASPER recorded the white and black residents of Jasper with two separate crews. An all white crew documented the white community exclusively, and an all black crew filmed the black community. Working from the over two hundred hours of digital video, producers / directors Whitney Dow and Marco Williams worked with editor Melissa Neidich to construct a unified film. Neidich previously edited the Sundance winner "Dark Days" and Independent Spirit Award winner "Soul in the Hole," as well as numerous other verit´ films.
TWO TOWNS OF JASPER was an official selection of the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, won "Best Documentary" at the 2002 Los Angeles Pan African Film Festival and the Center for Documentary Studies Award at the 2002 DoubleTake Documentary Film Festival.
The film received excellent press at Sundance, including articles in The New York Times, the LA Times and others. The Washington Post said the film has "an unusual level of candor in the always-touchy discussion about race. There is a comfort level evident among those being interviewed, whether it is a local white family frowning on James Byrd for being drunk on the night of his murder, or the women at the local black beauty parlor confiding that Jasper has a lot of skeletons in its closet in terms of race."
Working Films held a rough-cut community screening last October and later co-created all the Sundance events with Jim Sommers and Jill Sheinberg of ITVS' Community Connections Project.
During Sundance, there was a free community screening of Two Towns Of Jasper at the Calvary Baptist Church in Salt Lake City. More than 450 audience members attended, with a volatile and lively debate afterwards on new Hate Crimes legislation.
Two Towns Of Jasper also held a special legislative screening, organized by ITVS and Working Films, at Salt Lake City's State Capitol to help inform legislative votes for the pending Utah Hate Crimes Bill. State Representative David Litvack, the moderator for this screening and sponsor of a hate crimes bill last year, hoped the voices within the film will inform his colleagues, who will be voting shortly whether or not to strengthen current Utah legislation. More than 15 legislators, their staffs and interns, with filmmakers Marco Williams and Whitney Dow, joined us for this invite-only screening in the media room off the statehouse's rotunda. Even legislators who were wavering on supporting the Hate Crime Bill stated they thought the film was a powerful testament to how race divides a city. One intern asked for a copy of the tape, saying his legislator was unsure about his support for the new bill; he plans to use the tape to lobby for its support. Utah's Fox News led their broadcast that evening: "Sundance Film Keeps Hate Crime Bill Alive" and an article in the Deseret News, reporting on both the statehouse screening and Calvary Church, stated, "indications are that movement (for the hate crime bill) is growing."
Many documentaries and dramatic films have been made about the racial divide in America, but none have used segregated crews as a lens on the subject. Filming within the respective races as opposed to across the races provides a unique and rare occasion for audiences to have "insider" access, to witness intimate moments typically not shared with anyone outside a closed community.
National Outreach and Community Dialogue Campaign
TWO TOWNS OF JASPER presents an incredible opportunity for an outreach and community education campaign with long-lasting impacts. Because of the unique way in which the film was conceived with segregated production teams and an integrated post-production process, and the unforgettable incident it covers -- the film offers unprecedented potential for a PBS production to promote actions to improve race relations, eliminate bias, bridge and understand differences.
The underlying message of this campaign is that we as Americans are all implicated in large narrative of racism and discrimination and that our decisions to act or not act in specific moments reverberate in our communities and our society. The outreach activities and resources developed in this campaign will help Americans acknowledge that we do, based upon our personal and racial backgrounds, see the world differently and that by acknowledging our different perspectives, we have the opportunity to take a step closer together. Therefore, every element of this campaign (including the website and the activities designed for communities, places of work, schools and universities) will promote simple, positive actions people can undertake to acknowledge, analyze and move beyond unconstructive personal and community race histories.
On April 24-25, The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) convened a Leadership Summit Meeting for TWO TOWNS OF JASPER, co-hosted by the National Black Programming Consortium (NBPC) and Working Films. This meeting was designed to create a synergy between both traditional broadcast partners and national community-based organizations in order to leverage all opportunities to achieve a mutual goal: using TWO TOWNS OF JASPER to influence a national dialogue around race. Key partner organizations attending this meeting included Two Tone Productions, Independent Television Service, The National Black Programming Consortia, The Television Race Initiative, P.O.V. /A Project of American Documentary, Facing History and Ourselves, National Conference of Community and Justice, National Organizers Alliance, Partners Against Hate, the Ford Foundation and Working Films. Specific actions and tasks, an agenda, and a timetable grew out of this meeting and will form organizing branches of the campaign: including an interactive website, community-based screenings and dialogues, youth organizing and classroom resources, and a focus on faith communities.
The campaign around Two Towns of Jasper seeks:
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