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Join a Social Screening of ‘The Barber of Birmingham’ with Filmmaker Robin Fryday

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Robyn Fryday, director of the Oscar-nominated short film The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement, will be joining an online social screening of the film on October 16 at 4 PM ET to answer viewer questions.

In The Barber of Birmingham, Alabama barber and civil rights veteran James Armstrong experiences the fulfillment of an unimaginable dream: the election of the first African-American president.

The Barber of Birmingham: Screening with Robin Fryday

Where: You can join the screening online through the ITVS OVEE platform here.

When: Tuesday, October 16, 2012 at 4:00 PM Eastern. If you can’t make it, you can send in your questions ahead of time by leaving them in a comment below.

Who: Robin Fryday will be the guest chatting with POV and answering questions from viewers.

How: To submit a question, join the screening at 4PM ET (1PM PT) on Tuesday October 16, 2012, or leave a comment below if you will not be able to make it. To follow the conversation, join the screening tomorrow and chat with the filmmaker and other viewers.

For those who missed the chat, here is a recap:

POV: Our first question comes from Dennis: Can I ask what led you to make this film? How did you meet Mr. Armstrong?

Robin Fryday: When I decided to make this film I first took a trip to Birmingham, Alabama to do research on the Civil Rights Movement and meet some of the Foot Soldiers. After meeting with several people, someone asked me if I met “The Barber?” My next stop was Mr. Armstrong’s barbershop where I spent hours listening to stories of his personal involvement in the Movement.

I decided then and there that Mr. Armstrong would represent the thousands of Foot Soldiers who fought for civil rights.

POV: And what did he think of your making the film?

Fryday: Mr. Armstrong was very excited about Gail and I making this film about his life’s work.

He realized the importance of telling his stories in order to educate future generations as to the importance of voting and the sacrifices that were made in order for the next generations to have rights that he did not.

POV: Here is another question from a viewer: I wonder what kind of response this film has had from younger audiences who have just reached or are close to reaching voting age. Have you had any screenings with youth or students?

Fryday: We have had several screenings with high school and college students. There is one in particular which I’d like to share with you.

We screened the film in Birmingham, Alabama for 600 high school students from many different schools.

We also had 20 of the original Foot Soldiers from the Movement there to speak about the roles that they played during the Movement.

After the screening of the film and the discussion with the Foot Soldiers, we had tables set up with voter registration forms. It was unbelievable to see the students RUN to the tables to fill out their voter registration forms.

The students told me that before seeing this film they did not know of the sacrifices that were made so that they could vote. They said they probably would not have voted had they not seen this film.

This was a great moment for me as a filmmaker because this is exactly what Gail and I had hoped when we decided to make this film.

POV: How did you and your co-director/co-producer Gail Dolgin meet? (For our viewers, Dolgin also directed ‘Daughter From Danang,’ which aired on PBS in 2003.)

Fryday: Ironically, Gail and I met through a hairdresser. I’m a first time filmmaker and was looking for an experienced filmmaker to collaborate with on this project.

We were introduced and Gail loved the idea I had for the film. I sent her some still photographs I had taken of Mr. Armstrong and she immediately fell in love with him.

Gail told me right away that she was in the late stages of breast cancer. She knew this would be her last film and only had limited amounts of energy.

She was very very passionate about social justice and very passionate about this film. She passed away in October of 2010, just shortly before the film was finished.

Two days before she died she called a business meeting to discuss the future of the film. At that time we made the decision to finish the 18 minute sample she and I had created and keep the film as a short. We submitted it that day to Sundance.

Two days later Gail passed away and a month later I received a call that the film had been accepted to premiere at Sundance in January of 2011. This was a great tribute to Gail’s life and work.

I think this film is even more important than we ever imagined at the time we were making it. We knew the importance of telling this history, but did not know that voter suppression would be an issue of today.

It confirms everything Mr. Armstrong and the other Foot Soldiers all said…getting the right to vote and electing our first African-American president was only a step…not an end.

POV: Here’s another question from a viewer: Was Mr. Armstrong able to see the inauguration of President Obama?

Fryday: Unfortunately, Mr. Armstrong did not make it to the inauguration.

He was supposed to be on the bus with 40 other foot soldiers, and Gail and I were with our film team ready to record that moment.

Gail and I knew how cold it was in Washington, D.C., during that time so we went shopping for clothes for Mr. Armstrong to prepare for the weather.

The morning that the bus was leaving for the inauguration we went by to check on Mr. Armstrong and bring him his new clothes. We found him in congestive heart failure.

Gail and I rushed him to the hospital where he stayed for 10 days.

I’d like to share a story that was very moving while we were in the emergency room with him.

I was asked to go in and help Mr. Armstrong undress. He had on many layers of clothing because he was preparing to go to D.C. We removed his many shirts…

then his trousers…

and when I got to his shoes he told me I couldn’t remove them. When I asked why he said, “Because if they call me to march I have to be ready.”

This summed up Mr. Armstrong….always ready to march for justice.

POV: What was your reaction to being nominated for the Academy Award?

Fryday: Shock!!!!! Disbelief!!!!

As a first time filmmaker this was something I had never even imagined. It was such a great honor for the film to be recognized in this way. There was no better way to honor Mr. Armstrong and Gail Dolgin.

It was bittersweet being at the Academy Awards without them there to celebrate, but I know they were there in spirit.

Gail’s daughter Amelia and her son-in-law Ben were able to attend with me, along with my family and some of our film crew.

It was great celebrating with those who supported me throughout the making of this film.

As great an honor as it was to be nominated for an Academy Award, there’s still so much work to be done with the film to fulfill the goals Gail and I had for it.

POV: And our last viewer question: How do you wish educators would use this in their classrooms? What discussions do you hope to spark in younger generations?

I think this film can be used a tool to help educate students about voting, the Civil Rights Movement, the importance of not taking our rights for granted.

As Mr. Armstrong said, “someone paid a heavy price for those rights.” Mr. Armstrong says at the end of the film, “Dying ain’t the worst thing a man can do…the worst thing a man can do is nothing…I want to live for a purpose.”

Teachers can engage students into discussions about their purpose. How they see themselves as Foot Soldiers for today.

What they can do to make a difference. How one person can make a difference and how collectively a group of people can get together for a cause and bring about great change.

POV Staff
POV Staff
POV (a cinema term for "point of view") is television's longest-running showcase for independent non-fiction films. POV premieres 14-16 of the best, boldest and most innovative programs every year on PBS. Since 1988, POV has presented over 300 films to public television audiences across the country. POV films are known for their intimacy, their unforgettable storytelling and their timeliness, putting a human face on contemporary social issues.