Selmians tell their stories in documentary set for showing Friday

Published 9:04 pm Wednesday, March 3, 2010

SELMA — The Scottish poet Robert Burns once wrote of the gift some power would give us if we could see ourselves as others see us.

Residents of Selma — and visitors — will see how the camera and a couple of documentary filmmakers see the city and its people beginning Friday.

Called “45 Years Across the Bridge: The Battles of Selma,” the 90-minute documentary shows at 4:30 at the Selma-Dallas County Public Library.

Email newsletter signup

Michael Herzmark and his wife, Melissa Wayne, were 13 years old on Bloody Sunday. They remembered the impact of that day and of the entire civil rights movement, both having grown up in Kansas City.

“We also knew that the only thing we knew about Selma was ‘that was where the people got beat up,’” said Herzmark. “Even when Selma was in the news it was always that one story. Surely, there was more to it.

Herzmark’s remarks about the beating refer to Bloody Sunday, and a confrontation by authorities with civil rights marchers who wanted to go to Montgomery to draw attention to the hardships of attempting to register to vote.

On Halloween 2008, a Friday, Herzmark and Wayne came through town on their way back to Los Angeles. They walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, visited the National Voting Rights Museum & Institute and drove around town.

The couple encountered police cars with flashing lights and people in the street.

“‘Amazing,’ we thought,” said Herzmark. “‘We’re in Selma for three hours and there’s a march happening. It’s just like they say.’”

The march was a homecoming parade for Selma High School.

“We were intrigued by what we had seen and over the next couple of months kept wondering about what Selma is like now.”

Later, on the same trip, Herzmark and Wayne visited Stax Records Museum in Memphis, Tenn. They were moved by the opening documentary, “Wattstax.”

“Or original idea was simply to produce a short film on the history of voting for donation to the National Voting Rights Museum,” Wayne said.

Herzmark decided to attend last year’s Bridge Crossing Jubilee with a camera and crew of two the couple’s son and a friend. For 10 days they interviewed people and shot film. They talked to visitors and residents and heard many stories.

The project actually turned into two. One, a short film about voting, and the other, a longer piece, each with different goals and expectations.

“For the longer piece, we hear time and time again about the sort of ‘media drive-bys’ that characterize Selma’s coverage for years,” Herzmark said. “We promised to have a completed film to show the town during this year’s 45th anniversary of Bloody Sunday and will be doing that during three free showings at the library.”

A DVD of selected stories is available throughout the town for sale during Jubilee. The couple will contribute $1 from every one sold to non-profits in the city.

It’s uncertain how the public will receive this airing of feelings put together by Herzmark and Wayne from some 300 hours of footage, weeks of research and countless days in the editing room to reflect the 6 1/2 months spent in Selma.

But this much the couple knows: The people in Selma have different views on the city’s history and its current situation. They hope the film will spark conversations about and perhaps solutions for issues the city has.

“So many people shared wonderful observations and stories,” Herzmark said, “too many for a 90-minute program. So we expect some to be disappointed that their stories aren’t feature prominently.”

The couple is grateful for the generosity shown them with time and trust.

“As a parting thought,” said Herzmark, “it seems to us that Selma is at a crossroads. It cannot continue to decay or very soon it will become unrepairable. There seems to be a buzz of pulling in the same direction that’s being generated by a large group of people. New plans, new approaches, new attitudes. But there are also groups that are still holding on to old ways for whatever the reasons. It’s a bit of a tug of war and will be interesting to see the ultimate results.”