Dare Not Walk Alone is an award-winning feature-length documentary created by Jeremy Dean. a twenty-something director and former student of Flagler College, St. Augustine, Florida.
Dean began making the film after moving to St. Augustine to attend Flagler. Living in the historically black neighborhood of Lincolnville and helping out on various community projects, like the restoration of stained glass windows in an historic black church in St. Johns County, Dean began to hear stories of what had happened in the community in the early sixties.
Dean was stunned by the fact that he had not heard this part of the civil rights story in middle school or high school. And he was amazed to find that St. Augustine was a major battleground in the struggle for civil rights in 1964. Why? Because in 2003 there was precious little evidence in the city of the civil rights chapter in its long and otherwise well-documented past. (St. Augustine was founded in 1565 and ironically the first settlement of free blacks in America is also in St. Augustine, at Fort Mose, pronounced mo-zay, which is a National Historic Landmark.)
When Dean learned that the infamous "swimming pool integration incident" in St. Augustine had played a major role in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 he began to research his film, aided by several local groups who were preparing to mark the 40th anniversary of that signing. Dean participated in the 2004 ceremony of apology at a St. Augustine church which, in 1964, had barred blacks from attending and had them arrested.
More Shoulders to the Wheel
In 2004, Dean connected with Richard Mergener, a local producer who had been a fund-raiser for Habitat for Humanity in Chicago. Mergener organized a fund raising event for the film at which he and Dean connected with Stephen Cobb, a successful entrepreneur who happened to be living in St. Augustine at the time. Cobb and his wife, Chey, came onboard as executive producers and provided the funds to complete most of the principal photography, which was completed in the Spring of 2005.
Unfortunately, despite Mergener's best efforts, very few people in St. Johns County, or anywhere else for that matter, were prepared to fund a film that refused to look a civil rights from a purely historical perspective. The director's insistence that the film reflect the experience of young African Americans that he had met in the local community made it too edgy for most potential patrons. However, Dean's amazing ability to persuade friends and family to work for nothing kept the project going through the editing phase; and the Cobbs advanced more funds after seeing the first rough cut of the film, providing input on successive versions through a series of private screenings.
Reaction and Response
The film was first shown in public early in 2006 and the response was overwhelmingly positive. Almost immediately the state senator for the district, a man whose father had been an attorney for the NAACP in 1964, organized a screening tour of Florida's historically black colleges and a summit on affordable housing in West Augustine.
It appeared that the film was both adding to and benefiting from a subtle shift in the attitudes of St. John's County residents. In 2005, St. John's County was one of the fastest growing counties in America and many of the new residents , both black and white, wondered, as the Cobbs had done, "Where are the black people?"
To be continued... [TOP]
We get this question quite often. So here's the answer, in a four minute video clip of interviews and archive material that Director Jeremy Dean created early in the development of the film.
An article by one of DNWA's producers, Stephen Cobb,
How closely do you watch the news on television? Do you ever wonder who owns the news? Did you know that network news stations sometimes charge $100 for each second of news footage that is used in a movie or TV program? And this footage might be old, grainy, scratchy, and some of it wasn't even shown on television at the time the events were filmed.
That is one reason why DNWA had to raise almost $50,000 to make Dare Not Walk Alone eligible to be shown in cinemas and released on DVD. It also explains why some documentary makers use actors to recreate scenes instead of licensing original news footage of the event. Actors can work out cheaper. However, many documentary film makers insist on "the real thing" and you can understand why.
Suppose you want to show the world that in 1964, just a few months after the Beatles first appeared on American television, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. ended up in the back of a police car, accompanied by a police dog, because he tried to buy a cup of tea in a restaurant in the most popular tourist destination in Florida.
There is news footage of that incident available, filmed on the spot, at the time it happened. If you don't use that footage your choices are limited to:
a. filming actors on a set (the original restaurant is no longer there).
b. using a montage of photos with voice-overs recorded by actors.
The problem with options 'a' and 'b' is that the historical event loses something in translation. It seems unreal, lacks grit. Which may be why Dare Not Walk Alone, which uses no actors, was described by Peter Miller, Co-producer Ken Burns' Jazz, as "The most gritty version of civil rights history I've ever seen."
You might think that scenes which don't involve famous people like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are different, more amenable to re-creation instead of original footage. For example, Dare Not Walk Alone shows pro-segregation protestors violently attacking a group of black people who step into the water on a "Whites Only" beach.
Any director who chooses to portray that scene in a documentary using actors and extras risks the charge that he is somehow exaggerating or twisting the facts. Using the original footage, as seen in Dare Not Walk Alone, helps the film avoid charges of bias. There can be no doubt in the mind of the viewer that those events did happen. Indeed, one of the most frequent comments from people who have seen the film is that, despite containing very strong material, it is nevertheless balanced.
But that balance, that authenticity, comes at a price. It may not be a price we like, and at some point we might feel like arguing about the merits of a system in which large companies own the news of our past, but it is a price that had to be paid for Dare Not Walk Alone is to be seen in cinemas and released on DVD.
In late 2007 the film received a fresh infusion of funds sufficient to cover the remaining rights necessary to show the film in theatres.