G.I. Film Festival Goes Online Oct. 1 and 2
Speaker 1: 00:00 The GI film festival San Diego takes its event online this Thursday and Friday, the festival showcases films by for, and about the military and veterans this year two documentaries highlight the service of black men, KPBS arts reporter. Beth Amando speaks with filmmakers, Brian Williams and Denton Atkinson about their documentary in their own words, which looks to the Tuskegee airmen. Didn't. Before we talk about the film, remind people who the Tuskegee airmen were Tuskegee airman were the first African American fighter pilots that served in world war II. Uh, just a, a brief summary of them. This was the first time that African Americans were given the opportunity to serve in officer roles. And the program was entirely from the pilots to the cooks parachute, riggers nurses. Everyone was African American. So it was, it was sort of a test by the air force, the army and the air force, uh, that ultimately succeeded. And from their service record, along with other units, the, uh, military was decided in 1948, U S army air had decided he wanted to train some blacks to learn how to fly planes and operate air base completely. Speaker 2: 01:18 It had to be number one, really when the cat actual cooks they're bakers or nurses or pilots or whatever we have to be. That's what was expressed. Don't take offense with this. Speaker 1: 01:31 I do want to ask since we're very conscious of who gets to tell stories, how did a couple of white dudes get involved in telling the story of Tuskegee airmen? I guess, to the cliff notes of it was, it's an inspiring story and we've learned so much from these guys, but the way it started. Yeah. If you can, there was a restaurant we went to after shooting two music videos. That day was very hot. We said, you know what, God, what should we be doing with our time here? And so we set a prayer, cause my wife had told us two weeks earlier that we should be doing documentaries. And I said, okay, if when she speaks, I tend to move. So we all sort of tend to move. So we prayed and God was a little busy right then, cause we waited 13 seconds of nothing happened, kept talking about different ideas we could do. Speaker 1: 02:16 And the food got there, literally prayed again. And as soon as we said, Hey man, the door opens and a little African American gentlemen, a Tuskegee airman hat jacket, and shirt came in and I'm like, I think that's a Tuskegee airman. It's not every day. You see a Tuskegee airman. I mean, this was in 2007, but still it's not every day. So he's still doesn't says that. And I'm looking, I'm like, wow. And we're thinking about these different documentaries, I'll say, huh. Anyway. So what should we do? One on one kind of documentary flew right over my head had didn't even catch the fact that history had just walked in the door. And about 10 minutes later he was looking and smiling and we were smiling. And we had already started talking to him in an August, 2007, that started this journey that here we are in 2020 that we're still pushing the documentary, still getting it out there to more and more people. Speaker 1: 03:04 And we're so excited about the San Diego film festival and them airing this Friday is going to be so exciting to see what other people think about it. When we did our first interviews and talked with the airman, one of their biggest wishes was to not let the story die. So we've, we've spent the last, our first interview was in 2007 and we've spent all of that time just helping to promote this story because of how inspirational it is for those that do it. And how did you find these people? There was a local chapter of the Tuskegee airmen here in Augusta and that's who we had met was the president of the local chapter. And he, he started off with it. They had an event coming in an air show that we do in Augusta, Georgia every year in a few of them come in, came in, we were able to get those interviews. And then from there we, yeah, there's a, an organization called the Tuskegee airmen incorporated that facilitated those interviews or to introduce us to people and made those introductions. So we went to New York, Philadelphia, Tuskegee, all over the country, Maryland different areas to get different interviews Speaker 3: 04:06 And talk about the archival materials you got because you got some really nice photos and some video as well. And how did you unearth those Speaker 1: 04:14 Photos primarily came from the national historic research agency. It's the air force archives at Maxwell air force base. And then, uh, most of the video came from the national archives, just unleashed the photos and stuff. And you just scan the scan. I was scanning photos and one of the historians at the research agency, he comes down and he sees what I'm doing. And he, uh, was one of the experts on the Tuskegee airmen. So he said, ah, I've got something for you. So he brought down the actual mission reports. So per month. So I'm sitting here looking at these original photographs that are stapled in, you know, the morale of the men, all the missions statistics, but it's like getting to, you know, hold history in your hands and look at specific dates of missions that we had read about. We had heard airman talk about, and then here we are connected to that history. So just the archival material was pretty fascinating to be a part of. Speaker 3: 05:13 So one of the impressive moments in the film is reference to the fact that Eleanor Roosevelt climbed into a plane with one of the Tuskegee airmen. Speaker 1: 05:22 Yeah, it was cheap. Alfred Anderson. It's funny. We're actually doing a documentary on cheaper Alfred Anderson's. We know a lot more about that story, but yeah, he was a civilian then come in to Tuskegee, took a job and train these guys how to fly. And sure enough, Eleanor Roosevelt visited one day and went up for a flight with him. She wanted to go for a flight and it was funny that the program was getting started. But as soon as she got back on the ground, she wanted to go talk to the president and say, no, this program needs to happen. So that was probably the push that needed, that was needed to get the ball rolling. Speaker 3: 05:55 What's striking to me about watching the film from today's perspective with the current social unrest is that this isn't that far in our past. And there are some of these men who talked about the fact that people told them a black person could not fly a plane. Speaker 1: 06:10 Yeah. One of the things that we realized is that these were the precursors to Rosa parks, Martin Luther King, jr. I mean, these men paved the way for them. It was funny hearing one of the airmen refer to Martin Luther King jr. As that young fellow, you know, when that young fellow started all of the, you know, it was like, wow, this is so, yeah, it really wasn't that far long ago. And the lessons that, you know, the airmen were, it's the, it's the ultimate story of triumph over adversity, triumph, human spirit. Um, so that was one of the reasons we wanted to tell the story. And it's, it's still applicable today where there's a segment in there that the airman insisted on being in there to tell the story correctly. And it was the white officers that trained them. And I thought that was really neat because they wanted people to know that although there was a segment of society that was against this happening, maybe a big segment of society, there were men who put their careers and put themselves at risk to do this. Speaker 1: 07:11 I'll never forget. We asked one of the, we asked a lot of the airmen, but one in particular, he, why would you fight for a country that did not consider you human? He looked down and when he looked up, he had tears in his eyes. He says my country too. And one of the things they would always come back to you was like, well, you have to understand not everyone was against us. No matter who's against you, you have to keep going. You have to keep driving forward. It's a little bittersweet when you look at it nowadays because they did, they did affect our country tremendously. And I think that if people can see the story more, they'll understand, look, we just all get together, work together and we can do this versus all the divisiveness that you see. Speaker 3: 07:48 Well, I want to thank you very much for talking about your documentary. Speaker 1: 07:51 Well, you're very welcome. Thank you for asking that was Beth Huck. Amando speaking with Brian Williams and Denton Atkinson, their documentary in their own words, screens Friday as part of the GI film festival San Diego, which is presented by KPBS.