July-28th-2012, 05:07 AM
Mississippi: A Self Portrait
Do you remember when we had screenings with director Raymond DeFilitta of 'Tis Autumn: The Search for Jackie Paris? Well, Ray is back (he never went away), but tonight I was watching Dateline and Ray is making a new documentary based on pieces of his father documentary made in 1966 called "Mississippi: A Self Portrait"
The Mississippi Delta is thousands of miles and a lifetime away from Southern California where Raymond De Fellita and Yvette Johnson grew up.
Ray is white and pushing 50. He was raised in the Hollywood Hills, the son of a successful filmmaker and novelist. Yvette, is black and more than 10 years younger than Ray. She grew up in a gated community in San Diego, the daughter of former NFL football star.
Until the spring of 2011, the two of them had never met. But in a strange twist of fate, both discovered that they shared a unique bond, rooted in an NBC News documentary that aired only once, on a Sunday evening in May 1966.
The film, called Mississippi:A Self Portrait, was written, produced and directed by Ray's father, Frank De Fellita. Yvette's grandfather, Booker Wright, was its star. Although he made only a brief cameo appearance in the film, it was an appearance that would have a lasting impact of the lives of both Booker and Frank. And nearly 50 years later, it would draw Ray and Yvette together on a project to find the meaning of that single moment captured on a grainy snippet of film.
As a child, Ray watched the films his father had made when he worked as a producer for NBC News in the 1960s. There were documentaries about the Battle of the Bulge, the Ghosts of England, and Adoption. But Ray's favorite by far, was Mississippi: A Self-Portrait.
"And I remember when we used to screen the films at home. They were, by then, 10 years old." Ray says. "They looked to me much older, you know? 'Cause it was the 1970s and everyone in those movies was wearing thin ties. And it's in black and white and it's like another world. But I remember seeing Mississippi and finding the film striking. Largely because of Booker Wright."
Frank De Felitta had set out for Mississippi to make his film in the Spring of 1965--a perilous time in the Civil Rights Era. It was less than a year after the murders of three Civil Rights workers who'd been helping Mississippi blacks register to vote. Nearly 40 black churches had been burned to the ground in Mississippi the previous summer. And the Delta cotton town of Greenwood-- where Frank ultimately shot much of his film-- had seen plenty of trouble. Ten years earlier, Emmit Till—a 15-year-old visiting from Chicago--had been lynched nearby for whistling at a white woman. And Greenwood was home to Byron de la Beckwith--a man who, at the time, had already been twice tried and acquitted for the murder of Civil Rights leader Medgar Evers. Frank knew it would be a dangerous undertaking.
Here's the dateline piece
And here's Ray's father's original documentary