FILM: Neshoba — The Price of Freedom

| August 13, 2010 | 1 Comment

It was June 1964, the beginning of the Freedom Summer — the height of the Civil Rights movement — when a mob of Klansmen in Neshoba County, Mississippi murdered three civil rights workers: two Jews from New York and an African-American from Mississippi. It took 41 years for the state to convict one man, Edgar Ray Killen, an 80-year-old Baptist preacher and notorious racist, in the killings.

The disappearance and murder of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner quickly became an international story as the shocking crime woke up the consciousness of the nation and the world.

On August 4th, 1965 the Voting Rights Act was passed in part because of the revulsion over the “Mississippi Burning” murders.

The new documentary NESHOBA: THE PRICE OF FREEDOM tells the story of these three American heroes and the Mississippi County still divided over the meaning of justice 40 years after their murders. The film takes an unflinching look at ordinary citizens struggling to find peace with their town’s violent, racist past in today’s America.

Filmmakers Micki Dickoff and Tony Pagano gained unprecedented access to Killen, following him from shortly after his indictment through his trial. For the first time, the film captures the outspoken views of a Klan member charged with a civil rights murder and takes viewers on a journey into the mindset of a man who still feels the murders were justified as “self-defense” of a way of life.

Dickoff, an Emmy award-winning filmmaker and social activist, was haunted by the slayings of the three civil rights workers, kids only a few years older than she was at the time.

“I wanted to register voters too, but my father wouldn’t let me go. He grew up in Mississippi in the only Jewish family in his town,” she explains. “The unpunished murders helped shape my politics and my art. When Ben Chaney called me about making a film, I jumped at the chance.”

Teaming with Pagano, an award-winning director of photography, they began shooting on the 40th anniversary of the killings in Neshoba County, Mississippi where the three civil rights workers were slain. Pagano makes his feature directorial debut on NESHOBA.

“When Micki introduced me to Andrew Goodman’s mother Carolyn, I knew I needed to tell this story,” says Pagano. “Micki’s passion for the truth and Carolyn’s passion for justice were doubly inspiring.”

Through intimate and surprisingly candid interviews with Killen, the families of the victims, and black and white Neshoba County citizens with diverse points of view, the film explores whether the prosecution of one unrepentant Klansman constitutes justice and whether healing and reconciliation are possible without telling the unvarnished truth.

As Dickoff puts it, “James, Andy and Mickey, and hundreds of others in the civil rights struggle, died so Barack Obama could be elected President. Their legacy is our heritage. We must never forget them or the “price of freedom.” We hope our film reminds us how far we’ve come in race relations and how far we still need to go.”

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