The 90-minute film chronicles the intense creative journey of Bill T. Jones – a 2010 Kennedy Center Honors recipient and two-time Tony® Award winner for Best Choreography – as he tackles the most ambitious work of his career and leads the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company in the creation of Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray, an original dance-theater piece in honor of Abraham Lincoln’s bicentennial commissioned by Ravinia Festival.
Co-directors Bob Hercules of Media Process Group and Gordon Quinn of Kartemquin Films provide a window into the creative process and the creative crisis of one of our nation’s most enduring, provocative artists as he explores what it means to be a good man, to be a free man, to be a citizen. American Masters Bill T. Jones: A Good Man is part of the first PBS Arts Fall Festival, a multi-platform event anchored by nine films that highlight artists and performances from around the country.
“Fondly… is one of the most challenging projects I have ever undertaken,” said Jones. “A Good Man is an honest and unflinching portrait of that process.”
Through two tumultuous years, witness raw moments of frustration as Jones struggles to communicate his vision to his dancers and collaborators, as well as moments of great exhilaration when movement transcends the limitation of words. Jones and his company come face-to-face with America’s unresolved contradictions about race, equality and the legacy of our 16th President. Initially an indictment of “The Great Emancipator,” the work evolves into a triumph of hope for our struggling democracy, with Jones revealing that Lincoln was “the only white man I was allowed to love unconditionally.”
“Abraham Lincoln and Bill T. Jones make total sense to me. The courage and convictions of both men are a testament to the timeless endurance of art and action,” says Susan Lacy, series creator and executive producer of American Masters, a seven-time winner of the Emmy® Award for Outstanding Primetime Non-Fiction Series. The series is a production of THIRTEEN for WNET New York Public Media. WNET is the parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21, New York’s public television stations. For nearly 50 years, WNET has been producing and broadcasting national and local documentary and other programs to the New York community.
“I had always wanted to make a film that follows the creation of art from the very beginning all the way to the end,” says Bob Hercules. “Bill T Jones: A Good Man gave us that chance since we were wisely brought in by Ravinia at the very start of Bill’s research phase. Luckily, we had the resources and determination to keep filming through the whole process up to the premiere of the piece two years later. The result is an unvarnished look at how art gets created.”
“We tried to convey the immense amount of ideas and information that Bill T. Jones transfers into movement, music and speech for a performance. As we watched Bill’s struggles in putting his feelings about Lincoln and the contradictions and complexities of American democracy into Fondly…, we found ourselves drawn into the same contradictions about our democracy and our hopes for the future of this country,” says Gordon Quinn.
Throughout the film Jones explains how his childhood, artistic journey, personal feelings about Lincoln, and current emotional and physical condition affect the piece’s direction and development. Bill T. Jones: A Good Man also features interviews with dancers, musicians, crew, and staff from the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, including Executive Director Jean Davidson, Associate Artistic Director Janet Wong, Producing Director Bob Bursey, and Creative Director/Set Designer Bjorn G. Amelan, as well as Welz Kauffman, CEO and president of Ravinia Festival. Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray premiered at Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, Illinois, on September 17, 2009. The film features performances from the Ravinia premiere and rehearsals at the New 42nd Street Studios in New York City, along with production, writing and research sessions, including an emotional viewing of Lincoln’s personal effects at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. Archival performances include Still/Here (1994), Last Supper at Uncle Tom’s Cabin/The Promised Land (1990) and Jones’s collaborations with his late partner Arnie Zane in Valley Cottage (1980), Blauvelt Mountain (1980) and Monkey Run Road (1979).