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“Maynard Jackson was the Moses of his time” is a typical comment in Samuel D. Pollard’s documentary about the three-term Atlanta mayor, the first African-America to hold that office and the first of any major Southern city. The statement may be hyperbolic, but it reflects the enduring influence of the formidable figure who was instrumental in advancing civil rights from protests to political action. Recently given its world premiere at DOC NYC, Maynard proves as moving as it is informative.
Jackson, whose grandfather was the legendary civil rights leader John Wesley Dobbs, was impressive even in his early years. He entered Morehouse College at age 14 and graduated four years later prior to attending Boston University Law School. Shortly thereafter Jackson entered politics by running for Georgia senator, only to be soundly defeated by Henry Talmadge. He recovered by subsequently running for and winning the position of Atlanta’s vice mayor, only to then subsequently run and win a mayoral race against incumbent Sam Massell.
Assuming office at age 35 in 1973, Jackson encountered more than a few crises during his three (non-sequential) terms, including a police department scandal and the Atlanta child murders. But he also had his share of triumphs, including the city’s winning bid to host the 1996 Summer Olympics and the building of the international airport that now bears his name. He also developed many important public works projects and championed affirmative action policies to promote minority-owned businesses.
The documentary covers all of these aspects of his political career and more, using a wealth of archival footage and photographs and interviews with such figures as Bill Clinton, Jesse Jackson (no relation), Al Sharpton and Vernon Jordan, as well as many of Jackson’s friends and colleagues. But it also provides a deeply personal portrait via interviews with Jackson’s son, daughters, ex-wife and widow, all of whom attest to his intellect, generosity of spirit and ebullience. The most negative thing anyone says about him is that he had “time-management problems” and overate to the detriment of his health, especially ice cream.
There are moments when the doc, which includes Jackson’s son Maynard Jackson III among its executive producers, borders on hagiography. But it reaches the edge without quite crossing it even if the proceedings become overly emotional at times, such as the segment in which various friends and family members describe how they felt when they heard that Jackson had collapsed at an airport and died of a heart attack at age 65. But that’s a small quibble about this well put-together film which includes plenty of amusing moments, such as the footage of the portly Jackson squaring off against an amused Muhammad Ali in a mock boxing match.
Pollard — whose extensive credits as a director/producer/editor include many collaborations with Spike Lee; acclaimed documentaries such as Two Trains Runnin‘ and Sammy Davis: I’ve Gotta Be Me; and episodes of American Masters and Eyes on the Prize — employs a straightforward approach free of bells and whistles. But what Maynard lacks in flourishes, it more than makes up for in educational value.
Production company: Auburn Avenue Films
Director: Samuel D. Pollard
Producers: Autumn Bailey, Karl Carter, Wendy Elev Jackson, Donald Jarmond, Jason Orr, Winsome Sinclair, Dolly R. Turner
Executive producers: Brooke J. Edmond, Elizabeth J. Hodges, Howie Hodges, Maynard Jackson III, Wendy Elev Jackson
Director of photography: Henry Adebonojo
Editor: Jeffrey Cooper
Composer: Phil Davis
Venue: DOC NYC
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Santa Barbara International Film Festival