STERRITT: That's going to change things enormously.
GREAVES: Yeah, but the problem of distribution is still a
major one. In any case, I just wanted to mention the road
that we had to travel to get the money: writing innumerable
proposals, writing and rewriting and rewriting the script.
I mean, the script itself was brutal because we were hoping
to get the backing of the National Endowment for the Humanities
which is an awesome challenge for an independent filmmaker
with limited financial resources, because these folks at NEH
are oriented primarily to scholarship so you have to jump
through many hoops of scholarship if you hope to get your
proposal considered. And then there is the biggest and final
hoop to jump through, the final panel of scholars and experts
who meet at the NEH headquarters to discuss and evaluate your
project. The whole process is terribly nerve wracking and
STERRITT: I knew you were going to say something like that.
GREAVES: But the scholars and experts do keep you on track,
partly by throwing spitballs at you if you wander off of it.
Fortunately, we had a program officer down there at NEH, a
woman named Barbara Sirota who was very supportive and knew
that we had to get the script up to a certain level of expertise,
or we simply weren't going to be in the running for a grant.
And, thankfully, she just kept pushing us and pushing us until
we got it right. In any case, the time, money and energy deployed
in raising the money was awesome, but that was only the beginning.
The amount of research we poured into it was incredible, partly
because we had planned to produce a series. We have looked
at thousands of photographs to get to what you saw in the
film; we screened hundreds of thousands of feet of stock footage,
of newsreel footage, all kinds of vintage footage, and then
hundreds of newspapers, and maps and graphics, although we
did our own animation. Listening for hours to the sound recordings
of historical events. We knew that out of all this material
we gathered, only a very small fraction would end up in the
final product. In fact, Andrea Taylor, the program officer
at the Ford Foundation, put a lot of pressure on us also.
She told me that the reason that Ford decided to back us in
this production is that they expected us to win awards for
this film. That I was not to take a vacation until I had brought
it to award-winning level. Not that we needed reminding.
DAVID STERRITT: Yeah, I can well
imagine. Let me ask what will be my last official question,
and then we'll see if there's anything that we haven't touched
on that youd like to comment on.
DAVID STERRITT: Does a film like
this have the ability to change our society -- society is
a heavy word. Let me rephrase the question. What influence
can a film like this have?
GREAVES: When I first came into filmmaking, I had read
a book by a man named John Grierson, called Grierson on
Documentary and it influenced me greatly in my decision
to leave the theater where I had been an actor and become
a filmmaker. I had been studying African American history,
how Black people came to this country, etc. and I became aware
of the ancient African civilizations going back thousands
of years, how significant they were and I realized we, the
American people, had been shortchanged by the academic, political
and media gatekeepers in American society. We -- in particular
Black people -- had been taught to believe that there was
no history or civilizations in Africa, that Africans were
just a bunch of savages running around in the bushes. And
here comes John Grierson claiming that film, documentary film,
was an educational tool, a force that could change the attitudes,
and thinking of large masses of people, and could change social
and political policies. Well, I bought into that. I said,
"I'm going to make films that will correct those awful stereotypical
images that are constantly being thrown up on the screens
of America and the rest of the world ridiculing Black people
and other people of color." I thought I would have a real
impact, but I soon came to terms with the fact that my films
were not going to change the world, only in the sense that
they were like raindrops falling on a stone that can have
some impact over time. Humanity, like a stone, is pretty intractable
material, very slow to change. Of course, it took God trillions
of years to bring humanity to this point, which puts things
So, to answer your question, I see film as an opportunity
to create an experience that audiences will enjoy, but I also
see it as an opportunity to inspire and encourage people to
become those better things that, in their heart of hearts,
they would prefer to be. And the Bunche story is nothing,
if not inspiring. For example, I screened the film at Morehouse
College, in Atlanta to an audience of 600 or 700 young black
male undergraduates, and they were mesmerized by the film.
You could hear a pin drop. It occurred to me that some of
these young people might leave the auditorium, leave Morehouse
inspired by Ralph Bunches life story. At Spelman College
in Atlanta, where I also showed the film, a young Black woman
student came up to me and said "Mr. Greaves, I enjoyed the
film. It taught me a lot of things I didn't know and it was
really inspiring. I want you to remember me, because I'm going
to be President of the United States someday" that was audacious,
but it told me that the film had had an impact; that this
raindrop had changed her thinking and maybe her life. Maybe.