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  WILLIAM GREAVES: That was a very intuitional decision. But it comes out of really doing the exhaustive research work needed to familiarize yourself with the material, and allowing it to affect you subjectively, plus the employment, by the filmmaker, of his bag of cinematic tricks and techniques. I like to think that my filmmaking has been influenced by the ideas of an Indian philosopher whose work I have been reading for the past half century, a remarkable man by the name of Sri Aurobindo. He wrote a short treatise called The National Value of Art about the psychospiritual impact that art can have on a society or a nation. And for me, making a movie is like any other art form, like acting. At the Actor’s Studio, for instance, we deal very analytically with the acting process but there comes a point in the work of an actor after the play has been analyzed, the character’s motivations have been decoded, the lines have been learned, once all that information has been processed, the moment arrives when the actor has to slip into the skin of the character he or she is playing and live through these fictional events. And that is where the vividness of the actor’s imagination and its sensory impact on his subconscious comes into play, because the subconscious is where the emotions live, where the spontaneous impulses come from. Once the actor has reached that stage in his work, it’s best not to allow the critical, analytical faculties to interfere but to surrender to the subconscious and see where it spontaneously takes him. You see this kind of spontaneity in Brando, in De Niro and in John Voight in "Coming Home." It's called "living in the moment." Well, you're doing the same thing in the filmmaking process, as well, and I guess in any artistic endeavor-- Trusting one’s spontaneous impulses, that's where most of the creative genius of an artist comes from anyway, his subconscious. Once all the information is logged in the subconscious, it’s time to let go and see where your impulses, like waves, will carry you.

Filming an interview of Jane Johnson Taylor

DAVID STERRITT: Very, very interesting. A lot of what you've said relates to, I guess, internalizing this material so that you really know it. It becomes a part of you --

WILLIAM GREAVES: Exactly. For example, a huge plus for this film is Sidney Poitier’s narration. We were so lucky that he was interested in doing it. His narration is simply marvelous!

DAVID STERRITT: Absolutely.

 
And he immediately grasped the significance of this film, he understood what it was all about, even in its earliest rough cut stage. Sidney sat in my cutting room analyzed, meditated, emotionally identified with what he saw. He gave me valuable analysis and we stayed in touch during the production because, like me, he has a deep interest in the project. We both knew that the likelihood of getting funding for an in-depth film on Ralph Bunche again, was very small. What is even more amazing is that when the time came for him to record the final narration, he was very tired from jet lag. He had just stepped off a plane from Japan -- he is an ambassador to Japan -- did you know that?

DAVID STERRITT: No, I don't believe I did.

WILLIAM GREAVES: ...for the Government of the Bahamas. Anyway, he was scheduled to do the narration on his way back home after attending a meeting of diplomats in Tokyo. Well, he got off the plane in New York, exhausted from the long flight. He had a terrible cold, and he walked in the recording studio, took off his coat and did it, brilliantly. I mean, it was outrageous. Having reflected on the Bunche project over time, he had internalized the spirit of the film, Bunche and, I suppose, my spirit and commitment to the film. What I like about Sidney’s work on the narration is that it is so simple. You feel he is talking directly to you, and as a result, you become involved in the story. Very often when you hear a well-known voice, especially a movie star, you say, "Oh, that’s so and so." But with Sidney, you get the feeling that he’s your friend talking to you on the film’s sound track.

One other thing about voice-overs that might be of interest. We needed an actor to read Bunche’s lines on the sound track. I think we auditioned 15 or more actors for this but I wasn't able to get from them -- and it must be my failing as a director -- but I wasn't able to elicit from them the mental mechanisms and the nuanced emotions and phrasings that I felt would be right for the Bunche persona. Bunche was very low key and the subtext was important. Finally, as a stop-gap measure, I decided I would record the lines we needed to work with on the rough cut --

DAVID STERRITT: The temporary?

WILLIAM GREAVES: Yeah. The scratch track. I was thoroughly familiar with Bunche and, moreover I was already a method-trained actor. So I recorded the lines just as a stand-in and we used them in the rough cut while we continued to look for the right reader. But we ended up using the scratch track in the first interlock, which I hadn't planned to do, and when the time came to do the final sound mix of all the audio elements, and we still hadn’t found the right actor, we were forced to use what we had on hand: my work tapes or scratch tracks, as some call them. But the interesting thing is that -- to the extent that my readings worked -- it probably had a lot to do with the fact that I didn’t plan to use my voice in the final version, so my ego wasn’t involved. In other words, I was free of those pressures most actors are under in their performances. That freedom allowed me to be more relaxed, involved, more spontaneous as Bunche’s voice on the film’s soundtrack.

DAVID STERRITT: Next time, you've got to hire me as a consultant, because I could have saved you all those auditions. I would have said, "Bill Greaves is the one" -- [LAUGHTER] Why not? Obviously, it was the right decision, but I think I could have predicted that.

WILLIAM GREAVES: One final thing I’d like to mention is that in the course of the production we ran into the digital revolution. We started off shooting on 16mm and had planned to edit on video and then go back to film in the finishing stage. This was the process I was most familiar with. Well, by the time we had done the rough assembly, we realized that we had no choice but to join the digital revolution. We had collected so much material that the project had grown unmanageable on video and the technical advantages of working on a non-linear system were too important and attractive to ignore. Fortunately, the price of low end nonlinear editing equipment had begun to drop and we were able to buy an AVID. Now the problem was to find an editor who knew how to work with it. I had been an editor for many years but I knew nothing about computer editing and we discovered that this was true of a lot of experienced film editors. With the digital revolution, there was a fierce demand in the industry for editors who combined both in-depth editing experience and digital expertise. I would have liked to pass the editing job on to someone else, a top editor, hopefully someone with considerable experience working in digital editing as well as on long form documentaries but this kind of talent was simply not available, certainly not on a freelance basis. So we now had another problem. We solved it by my working as the principal editor with a series of computer savvy younger people who could quickly execute my ideas digitally. It was a team effort but without my editing background I don't know how we could have made this film. Although it was tough sledding in the end, going digital made a tremendous difference in the quality of the finished product. It allowed us so many more creative solutions.

DAVID STERRITT: -- when you work with it creatively, and here's a question about Ralph Bunche again. It's a very personal question, I guess -- but at the end of the process, did you feel differently about Bunche than when you first went into it, as a person or as a force in 20th century history? Did you feel that he was greater than you had anticipated going in? Did you feel perhaps that maybe there was the, if not the foot, the occasional toe of clay here? Or did you come out feeling, "Yeah, I pretty much knew what I was doing and it all kind of worked out kind of the way I expected it would," just in terms of your views of him.

WILLIAM GREAVES: Well, actually, he was far more than what I had bargained for. I did not imagine he would be as complicated, as skilled and, ultimately, as powerful as he actually was. Like Gandhi, he was, at first glance, quite disarming. One wouldn’t impute any special significance to him, in my mind, as a leader. In fact, he joins that special tribe of people -- Siddhartha, or Krishna, the disarming chariot driver, leading the warrior Arjuna into battle... He joins that rare breed of humanity-- who are totally disarming at first glance but who in fact are extremely powerful in their impact on the world. You don't see it that much in this particular version of the film, but it emerges more vividly in the longer version -- those modest giants who put themselves, their lives, on the line for a cause, Socrates, Jesus Christ, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mandela -- individuals who were willing, consciously, to sacrifice themselves for their beliefs in a better life for humanity.

In the longer version of the film, we deal with that aspect of Bunche more explicitly. What you see in this version are largely the triumphs -- which are very important and very real -- but in the longer version one also sees the price that had to be paid for those triumphs, because that’s the way the cosmos is set up, as you know. As a matter of fact, Bunche said it, "No good deed should go unpunished."

DAVID STERRITT: Yes, right.

WILLIAM GREAVES: It’s a tough street to go down. Bunche isn’t alone, of course, as a martyr on the altar of humanity. But, yes, I have become what might be called a Ralph Bunche "groupie".

DAVID STERRITT: Do you feel that many or most of the things that he accomplished would have come to pass anyway, maybe just taken longer or happened in different ways?

WILLIAM GREAVES: Sure. There's no question about it. I mean, what you're talking about is what I’d call the will of humanity for peace, justice and mutual respect, which are very powerful cosmic forces, and they are moving in a certain evolutionary direction. Bunche and people like him are the facilitators. Other people would probably step in his place at some point over time. He's hardly alone. There are many, many people in various fields, in government, in Congress and in the corporate world and in various groups and communities throughout the world who are of a similar mind, and they play a part, big or small, in vectoring humanity in a direction that, hopefully, will ensure the survival of the human race. These people work at cultivating the human spirit, building a secure future and all of those good things. They're doing what they can, and if one falls on the battlefield, there will be someone else to take his or her place.

 

Frankly, I think in today’s world it would be even more difficult to accomplish what Bunche did. There are so many more powerful forces at work in the world today. They seem to be even more disruptive and resistant to positive change and more complicated even than when he was coming through world history.

Right now we are fortunate in that we have a remarkable man at the helm of the United Nations, Kofi Annan. He has a spectacular mind, understands a lot about how the world works. He is a consummate diplomat, modest, yet one senses his commitment to humanity. Bunche was that kind of person. So was Hammarskjold and Eleanor Roosevelt. So, to answer your question, I think progress in the world would go on without Bunche, it would go on without Gandhi, without Aurobindo, the philosopher I mentioned earlier. Aurobindo was an independence fighter in India during the early part of the 20th century, and the British finally caught up with him and threw him in jail. And, while in jail awaiting his fate, it dawned on him, as he looked into the eyes of the other prisoners, that these younger men worshipped liberty, justice, a better world. In their eyes, he realized that there were forces at work that were greater than he was; that it didn't matter whether he lived or not, this thing called human evolution and progress was going to go forward, with or without him, even in the face of fierce resistance. He just had the very good fortune, he felt, to have been a factor in the liberation movement, which ended up with Gandhi who came along later resurrecting Aurobindo’s philosophy of passive resistance and his swadeshi (economic boycott) strategy as weapons against British oppression. So to answer your question, I think Bunche was, in a sense, indispensable and yet expendable, he could be replaced by some other person or cosmic means.


 

DAVID STERRITT: Yeah. What you're basically saying is -- let me attempt to make sure that I have understood it clearly -- that as extraordinary as Bunche was in his ability to facilitate things and to expedite things and to make things happen around him, he was not the ultimate cause of those things.

WILLIAM GREAVES: No.

DAVID STERRITT: He was not the sole ...

WILLIAM GREAVES: No. He simply found ways to accelerate the process.

DAVID STERRITT: Is there anything we’ve missed that you’d like to comment about?


Director and Cameraman at work


  WILLIAM GREAVES: As you can imagine, producing this film was a very difficult mountain climb. Not to mention the fundraising, which was a major challenge. I think we approached something like 200 foundations, over 300 major corporations, roughly 100 black businesses, and a bunch of people whom I knew could simply write a check. We started off in good shape with the Ford Foundation and the NEH but finding the completion funds was very time consuming and difficult. Fundraising was almost as tough as making the film and it’s not getting any easier.

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