Rosemary Beach Foundation
Seaside Rep Theatre present:
a screening of The Long Walk Home
Rosemary Beach Town Hall
hosted by screenwriter John Cork.
Starring Whoopi Goldberg and Sissy Spacek, directed by Richard Pearce, produced by Dave Bell & Howard W. Koch. Cork will introduce the film and answer questions afterwards about the movie, the history behind the film and his career in Hollywood as a screenwriter / author/documentary filmmaker. Tickets: $15 for adults and $5 for students, seasiderep.org, 850-231-0733, or in person at Amavida Coffee (Seaside and Rosemary Beach).
“A quarter of a century ago, I wrote a screenplay about two women and their families during the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Within a few short years, I had the honor of standing on a set watching Sissy Spacek and Whoopi Goldberg bringing life to those characters who, before, only existed as words on the page. The Long Walk Home is about exhuming ghosts from our past, not through the revelation of dark secrets or uncovered mysteries, but through understanding our personal stories, those turning points that help define who we are—not just as individuals but as a society.
Since writing The Long Walk Home, I’ve co-authored three books, produced and directed 100-plus documentaries of varying lengths and pursued a wide variety of projects. The Long Walk Home, however, remains one of my proudest achievements.
When Katheryn Stocket’s beautiful novel, The Help, appeared in 2009, a few friends brought it to my attention. It took place in surroundings similar to my own film and touched on similar themes. I read the novel, which certainly stands not on the shoulders of my film, but on the stories of women in the South of that era. I have no idea if Stocket ever saw The Long Walk Home, but I was thrilled for her success.
Nearly a year ago, when the film version of The Help came out, the Academy Award-winning performance by Octavia Spencer brought back personal memories—Octavia’s first film job was as an energetic 16 year-old intern whose personality lit up our production offices. Sissy Spacek’s role in the film brought a smile to my face, recalling her knitting between takes. Friends forwarded me reviews of The Help that mentioned The Long Walk Home, asking if I thought The Help would somehow “revive” it. Roger Ebert even reminded his Twitter fans of the film at Christmas-time, saying they should seek it out.
What friends didn’t know was that The Long Walk Home had been buried under complex issues involving the distribution rights to Miramax’s library. The DVD releases were old, limited-run affairs, and the film was getting ever-harder to find, just as it was coming back into the public’s consciousness. Finally, Netflix obtained the film as part of its streaming on-demand library, where it has been reaching a new audience.
Then, when Octavia Spencer was awarded her well-deserved Oscar, Peter Dreier, a professor at Occidental College, published an article entitled, “Will The Help’s Oscar Revive Interest in The Long Walk Home?” I had never met nor heard of Prof. Dreier, and was taken off-guard when friends sent me a link to his article. He wrote, “More than any other Hollywood film about the civil rights years, The Long Walk Home offers viewers’ insights into the complex work of grassroots mobilization and the quiet day-to-day courage needed to build a movement for social justice.”
I was moved by these kind words, and by the renewed interest in the film on the part of so many, including the invitation to screen it as part of Rosemary Beach Foundation’s Making It: The Artist’s Journey series. Yet, there was an irony in such praise. When I wrote The Long Walk Home, I hoped to revive interest in a recent past that too many of my peers seemed to have overlooked. Now, others have urged reviving interest in the film itself, a part of our cinematic past that they believe has been overlooked.
I wrote the film for one reason more than any other—to say to those who walked in the Bus Boycott, who sat at the lunch counters, who registered the voters, who trudged from Selma to Montgomery–to say to them all, you are remembered. You are remembered not just for the moments which history records, but for all the lives you touched along the way.
Many, who boycotted the busses attended sub-standard schools, had little access to parks or libraries. Most worked all their lives for subsistence wages. All lived in a world where the deck was stacked against them. I knew some of these men and women. I knew them only by their first names. I knew them because they worked inside my grandmother’s home, or as “yard men.” One taught my best friend to read one summer when he was four. Another held me when I was sick, mopping my fevered forehead with a cold cloth. The women who worked for my grandmother bathed me, cooked my breakfast, did my laundry, cleaned up whatever mess I left behind. They also changed this nation for the better, battling a system that their employers tacitly embraced. They walked a tightrope every day that few of us could imagine. When I tried to imagine it, I knew I had to reach out and find out more. When I found out more, I knew I had to write The Long Walk Home. As time has moved on, the veterans of The Boycott are now increasingly ghosts of the past. Each year, fewer and fewer remain who recall the mass meetings and long walks of 1955-56.
The Long Walk Home itself is now a ghost of the past. I hope it still has the power to move audiences, as its story is no less important to me today as it was when I wrote it so many years ago.
Ghosts, though, are not otherworldly spirits. They are living memories, sometimes from our own experiences, sometimes inspired by novels, films and documentaries. The powerful ones guide us in the present. They stay with us as we move into the future. They impart a perspective on life that we ourselves might otherwise fail to see. They are history’s gentle reminders that we must not make the same mistakes over again.”