Freedom Summer: Sundance Review

A powerful documentary and a stirring historical document that will be a must-have addition for any university library.

Veteran filmmaker Stanley Nelson crafts a portrait of the dangers of registering black voters in segregationist Mississippi in 1964.

PARK CITY, Utah -- "Crack Mississippi and you've cracked the South." That was the strategy of more than 700 college students who descended on the segregationist state in 1964 to register black voters. Of the Southern states, Mississippi had both the highest percentage of blacks in the population, and, by far, the lowest percentage of black registered voters. If they could embolden black voters to register in the worst Southern state, they reasoned the other states would follow.

It was a controversial and very risky undertaking. Almost immediately three participants turned up missing, later found murdered. Indeed, what most of the idealistic and naive college students did not grasp was the hair-trigger violence of Mississippi. It was a dangerous naivety that was not lost on the black Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee members who organized the movement within the state.

In its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival, Freedom Summer enthralled and educated a packed house about the backwater and backroom perils of their dangerous quest. Mixing archival footage, news clips from the time and recent interviews with the participants, veteran filmmaker Stanley Nelson has crafted a searing portrait of those violent, racist times. Intelligently composed and powerfully driven, Freedom Summer is a stirring historical document. It would seem an essential addition for any university library.

Freedom Summer will be shown on PBS this June, where it will likely garner similar ecstatic reaction.

Production companies: American Experience Films, Firelight Films
Screenwriter-director-producer: Stanley Nelson
Producer: Cyndee Readdean (cq)
Executive producer: Mark Samels (cq)
Editor: Aljernon Tunsil
Music: Tom Phillips
No rating, 113 minutes.