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?
STERRITT: No, I don't believe
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 Sidneys 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,
thats so and so." But with Sidney, you get the feeling
that hes your friend talking to you on the films
other thing about voice-overs that might be of interest. We
needed an actor to read Bunches 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 --
STERRITT: The temporary?
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 hadnt 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 didnt plan to use my voice
in the final version, so my ego wasnt 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 Bunches voice
on the films soundtrack.
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.
GREAVES: One final thing Id 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.
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
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
wouldnt 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.
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 thats the way
the cosmos is set up, as you know. As a matter of fact, Bunche
said it, "No good deed should go unpunished."
STERRITT: Yes, right.
GREAVES: Its a tough street to go down. Bunche isnt
alone, of course, as a martyr on the altar of humanity. But,
yes, I have become what might be called a Ralph Bunche "groupie".
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
GREAVES: Sure. There's no question about it. I mean, what
you're talking about is what Id 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.