Tag Archives: HBO

Trey Ellis And Martin Luther King: In The Wilderness

Fifty years ago today, a bullet ended Martin Luther King’s life — and changed the course of American history.

Two nights ago, HBO aired “King in the Wilderness.” The 2-hour documentary showed a side of the civil rights icon and Nobel Peace Prize winner that’s seldom discussed today: a conflicted leader who, at the time of his death, was assailed by critics on both the left and right.

Trey Ellis

Westporter Trey Ellis served as executive producer. He’s accomplished plenty in his life. He’s written movies, books, TV shows and a play about the Tuskegee Airmen. He’s been a political pundit, social critic and Huffington Post contributor; won a Peabody and been nominated for an Emmy.

He teaches at Columbia University, was a non-resident fellow at Harvard, and taught or lectured at Yale, NYU, and in Brazil and France.

But this project was special. Ellis spent a year crisscrossing the country, interviewing 17 men and women who lived, breathed and molded the civil rights movement.

John Lewis, Jesse Jackson, Marian Wright Edelman, Joan Baez — all spoke with candor and insight about Martin Luther King. Ellis also interviewed unsung heroes of the movement, like Diane Nash.

A special camera allowed Ellis and his subjects to look directly into each other’s eyes as they talked. Each 2-hour interview was thrilling.

“It was a very collaborative effort,” Ellis says of the film. He worked closely with director Peter Kunhardt (a 6-time Emmy winner) and co-executive producer Taylor Branch (who wrote the landmark trilogy “America in the King Years”).

In the midst of so many gauzy, hagiographic 50th-anniversary retrospectives, this documentary is different.

“When most people think of Martin Luther King, it’s ‘I have a dream,'” Ellis says.

“He was 25 years old when he first worked on the Montgomery bus boycott. He was 39 in 1968. His great successes were behind him. But he still kept working for social justice. He loved humanity.”

In the last year of his life, King was criticized by some whites for speaking out against the Vietnam War — and by some African Americans for his insistence on non-violence. His embrace of economic inequality issues also drew criticism.

Ellis’ film examines all of that, unflinchingly.

“He wasn’t perfect. He was human,” the executive producer says. “He was funny, irreverent, and at the end of his life he was depressed.”

Dr. Martin Luther King

“King in the Wilderness” premiered in January at Sundance. It was was shown at the Smithsonian’s Museum of African American History, and at New York’s Riverside Church, where on this day in 1967 — exactly a year before he was murdered — Dr. King preached a fiery sermon that denounced not just Vietnam, but America’s entire foreign and domestic policy.

“It’s been a wild ride,” Ellis says of the past year.

His adventure continues. Today he’s in Montgomery, Alabama — the city where King first preached, and helped organize the year-long bus boycott.

Ellis is there working on his next project: an HBO documentary on the history of racial violence in America.

That’s a subject as important today as it was 100 years ago.

And on April 4, 1968.

(For more information on HBO’s “King in the Wilderness” — including viewing options — click here. For an interview with Trey Ellis and Peter Kunhardt about the film, click below.)

“The Number On Great-Grandpa’s Arm”

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

In recognition, HBO premieres a 19-minute documentary. “The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm” features 90-year-old Jack Feldman, and his 10-year-old great-grandson Elliott. They talk honestly and emotionally about the tattoo on Feldman’s forearm — plus his life in Poland, Auschwitz, and finally America.

The Chicago Tribune calls the film “impeccably crafted (and) warmly poetic.”

Director Amy Schatz says, “I was so moved to see their body language, the way they snuggled up with each other. The way they hold hands and lean on each other, it’s powerful to see that.”

The conversation between the old man and young boy is compelling. But the documentary is made even more powerful by hundreds of animated drawings from Westport filmmaker/painter Jeff Scher.

“The Number on Great-Grandpa’s Arm” premiered last Sunday at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Manhattan. A gallery with 500 of Scher’s paintings from the film will be displayed for 3 months. The artwork then goes on tour nationwide.

Earlier today, HBO also posted a video on the animation process. It includes a very interesting visit to Scher’s Westport studio.

“It’s hard to spend every day drawing a child’s face, marching down a corridor to their doom,” he says.

But he did it. The result is important for everyone — especially today’s kids.

And especially today.

Click below for HBO’s behind-the-scenes video:

Daniel Hall’s “First Date, Last Date”

The Hall family are familiar figures in Westport.

Bill and Mary Ann are longtime music educators. Their daughter Emily sang at Staples, studied opera at the Boston Conservatory, and just released her 1st full-length EP for kids, “Sun in the Morning ‘Til the Moon at Night.”

Daniel Hall

Daniel Hall

Daniel Hall performed at Staples (Class of 1997), earned a BFA in theater at the University of Michigan, then spent 10 years acting in New York. He guest starred in “Law & Order,” and had a recurring role in “Guiding Light.”

Five years ago, Daniel moved to L.A. He acted in “Graceland,” “Mad Men” and “Newsroom,” and played opposite Jaime Pressly in “I Hate My Teenage Daughter.” He’s got a part in the upcoming Cinemax show “Quarry,” and John Stamos’ “Grandfathered.”

Daniel is very excited about his most recent project. HBO seldom shows short films — but in February they’ll air “First Date, Last Date.”

Consisting of one long shot, the video stars Daniel and Andrea Bordeaux as a couple meeting for the first time in a diner, as an apocalyptic world breaks outside. The film takes them through a unique — and uniquely peaceful — journey.

“Not to be cliched, but all of my life has been based on the nurturing I got in Westport,” Daniel says.

Staples Players director Al Pia had a profound impact.

“I think of him often,” Daniel says. “He taught me about confidence, to find strength in my own voice, and how to be a leading man. Actors often have anxiety. He helped me work through that. He was a great coach and leader. He kept me in the game, and made me hungry.”

Hungry enough to get a role as an HBO actor in a diner, on a first and last date while the world around him falls apart.

(“First Date, Last Date” debuts Wednesday, February 3, 10:50 p.m. EST on HBO Now. Click here for the entire schedule.)

Andrea Bordeaux and Daniel Hall, filming "First Date, Last Date."

Andrea Bordeaux and Daniel Hall, filming “First Date, Last Date.”