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The Making Of

Director Marco Williams talks about mixed reactions to racist remarks, building trust and how one character in BANISHED changes over time.

What led you to make this film?

Much of my work over the past 10 years has focused on race relations. Many of my films have illuminated an aspect of race relations, hinting at solutions. In BANISHED I saw an opportunity to not just bring to light a hidden part of American history but also the chance to explore solutions—reconciliation and reparations.

What were some of the challenges you faced in making this film?

Finding African American descendants; how to tell the historical story; and how to make one film out of three distinct yet thematically related stories.

How did you gain the trust of the subjects in your film?

Trust is built over time. But trust also comes from letting people know from the start what you are doing, why you are doing it and why you are interested in their story.

There's a scene in the film where an elderly Harrison resident says to you that one of the most important reasons he moved to the town was the "lack of blacks." What was your internal reaction to this statement?

My internal reaction to this comment was two fold. One part of me was ecstatic. This is what a documentary filmmaker hopes for, for someone to be honest and truthful. In the same vein the response by the president of the Harrison Chamber of Commerce was another equally revealing remark. But with the guy from Harrison who moved to Harrison because of the absence of blacks, I felt sorry for him; I was glad that I didn’t live in Harrison—sadly fulfilling his wish—and I couldn’t wait to get back to my hotel to take a shower.

What didn’t get included in your film that you would have liked to show?

There is a scene on my Web site, that takes place in Harrison in the high school. I think that this scene represents part of the problem in these communities—that the past remains buried, kept from view from young people.

In Pierce City, I wish that I could have shared Charles Brown’s letter. It is very eloquent.

Tell us about a scene in the film that especially moved or resonated with you.

The scenes with Don Lakin, the county coroner from Pierce City, were moving to me. The first time he meets the brothers and you see him gradually change. His comments that there needs to be a forgiving area and his effort to come to terms with the prospects of money having the potential to provide healing to the Browns.

What has the audience response been so far? Have the people featured in the film seen it, and if so, what did they think?

The people in Pierce City and Harrison have seen the film, as have the family from Forsyth County.

Audience response has been very positive. Many people express gratitude for bringing to light a chapter of American history. Others appreciate the even-handedness of the film, allowing each side of the discussion to speak and to be heard.

The independent film business is a difficult one. What keeps you motivated?

Making films is my passion. I wouldn’t know what else to do with myself.

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