Mr. Rogers Is the Advocate for "Civility" We Need, Says 'Won't You Be My Neighbor?' Director
When it came to getting access to Fred Rogers' life rights, it was Mrs. Rogers (Joanne) who had to give her blessing, according to 'Won't You Be My Neighbor?' director Morgan Neville.
"I hate nostalgia," Won't You Be My Neighbor? director Morgan Neville told the Documentary Roundtable. "It's inherently a regressive idea that doesn't ask much from an audience."
One might assume a Mr. Rogers film would be just that, but Neville argued, "I felt like this film was inherently a progressive idea. Not, how do we go back, but how do I get Fred Rogers into 2018?"
"Who's a better advocate for these kinds of crucial issues we have in our culture right now about civility and neighborliness and kindness?" he asked the roundtable. "Fred Rogers was the closest thing I could come up with, and was just trying to amplify that message."
The greatest takeaway he has gained from the film is the universality of the audience connection. Neville explained, "We have these conversations as filmmakers about 'Are we just preaching to the converted? Are we just talking to each other?' I felt like it was this rare opportunity to make a film that would play for people who I didn't agree with, and it's done that."
"That's the thing that's actually given me the most optimism. There are people who I don't agree with, politically, who have loved the film, and maybe, in that way, we can have some common ground we can build upon."
When it came to getting access to Rogers' life rights, it was Mrs. Rogers (Joanne) who had to give her blessing. "I said, 'I want to make a film about his ideas, not about his biography,'" revealed Neville. "She said, 'Don't make him into a saint.'"
"I can't think of anything a filmmaker wants to hear more from the guardian," Neville said. "To treat him as saintly means that you don't appreciate the hard work he had to do to actually do these things, and it also doesn't ask us, as an audience, to have to live up to it."