Rare MLK film screens on campus
For some, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. is a man on a page, a face on a black history poster, or the answer to a question on a history exam.
However, for the people who filled the Main Stage at Santa Monica College for the east coast premiere of "Martin Luther King, Jr.: A Personal Portrait" on Thursday evening, King was shown to be a man whose intellect was unmatched and conscience unshakable.
Presented by the departments of communication and global citizenship, the film consisted of rare footage of King which was shot in his home over the course of four days in December 1965.
It would not be an overstatement to call Thursday's screening a historic event.
The footage, commissioned by television producer Arnold Michaelis, laid unused until George Silano, who directed and shot the project, and was the guest of honor Thursday evening, found it in the University of Georgia archives.
"Have you ever played the what ever happened to him game?" Silano asked the packed theater. "That's what I did with this film."
After receiving a courtesy copy of the film from the Michaelis'Library of Living History, Silano, the only living member of the crew that shot the footage, was told that he could only screen the film for educational purposes.
Prior to Thursday's screening, the film had only been seen by approximately 1,000 people and according to Silano, the audience present would be the largest audience yet to enjoy this unique opportunity.
Those in attendance were also treated to an intimate discussion of King's views and philosophies. Before Silano introduced the film, Santa Monica College film professor Salvador Carrasco opened the event with a speech exploring the growth and radicalization of King during the 1960s. He discussed King's support for Third World liberation movements, his anti-war views concerning Vietnam, and his doctrine of non-violence as the ultimate form of resistance against tyranny.
Carrasco emphasized the need to understand King beyond the official image that is usually celebrated every Jan. 15. He stated, "When the myth gives way, the legacy only grows."
Carrasco was followed by Associate Dean Frank Dawson who introduced Silano by outlining his career and experience as a filmmaker who sat down with figures such as President Lyndon B. Johnson in addition to King.
Silano then took the podium and showed a series of photos capturing the kind of institutionalized racism that dominated the Jim Crow South in the 1960s.
Once the film began the audience was taken into the King home. There was the man, not the icon with the booming voice, but instead an intellectual observer of his times sitting on a chair in a living room and discussing a rapidly changing society.
Viewers also saw the inner workings of the partnership between King and his wife Coretta.
In the final question of the interview, King was asked if he was willing to die for the advancement of civil rights. Though King's tenor did not change, the answer he gave communicated an understanding that his death was possible.
One of the standout features of the film was the unwavering calm and intellect displayed by King during the interview.
After the film Silano was joined onstage by Carrasco and Dawson for a question and answer session between the three men.
"Martin touched the third rail. He knew the crosshairs were on him," Silano said discussing the constant threat of violence that hung over King. "In Martin's presence he made you feel a certain kind of calm. He was as cool as a cucumber when the crosshairs were on him."
Silano made it clear that he did not believe King's accused assassin, James Earl Ray, actually fired the shot that killed the civil rights icon. He hinted that the killing might have been the work of powerful forces, quite possibly within the government or FBI.
He also discussed the technical hurdles of making the film in 1965 with just one camera. "You only had 10 minutes per each roll of film," explained Silano.
Students in the audience were also given the opportunity to ask questions. They ranged from mesmerized impressions after watching the film, to questions about how the movie changed Silano's life.
Each student who was given an opportunity to speak, either thanked Silano or praised the film.
"It took the good will of a lot of good people to bring the film here to SMC," Carrasco said after the screening.
Throughout the evening Silano remarked multiple times on how well King's vision applied to the issues of today and implored the audience to become more politically active and aware.
"Let's get to work. Let's get involved, get out and vote," Silano said.