Though he’s produced dramas for such entities as Disney, USA Network, and MCA Universal, and shot renown photographs of the Beatles, it is Paul Saltzman’s ties to Mississippi and the documentaries he’s produced featuring Morgan Freeman which aptly influenced his company name “Return to Mississippi Productions”.
One of Saltzman’s latest documentaries “Prom Night in Mississippi” is currently showing on HBO. This feature length documentary shows the journey leading up to the first integrated prom in Charleston, Mississippi in 2008 in which native Mississippi actor Morgan Freeman spearheaded the movement.
Saltzman sat down with me and shared some personal history and also the dramatic impact he witnessed while shooting this award winning documentary.
Q: You and your wife, Patricia Aquino, are from Canada but your company name is “Return to Mississippi Productions”. Why?
A: In 1965 I came here during the second of the freedom summers to do voter registration, mostly in the Mississippi Delta. Prior to filming “Prom Night in Mississippi”, I was already filming with Morgan Freeman on another documentary “Return to Mississippi” which explores race relations in the state to see how or if attitudes and beliefs have changed since I was here in the 1960s.
Q: I know you were in the midst of working on “Return to Mississippi” but stopped to film “Prom Night in Mississippi”. How come?
A: We had to shift projects or we would have missed the opportunity. Ten years ago, Morgan offered to pay for Charleston to have an integrated prom but they declined. We went with him when he made the offer again in 2008 and the offer was accepted. The whole story moved me deeply. White and black kids were still having separate proms in 2007. (Saltzman noted that these separate proms were organized by the parents, not by the school).
Q: Tell me a little more about the film.
A: We filmed the entire story as it unfolded. We went with Morgan to the district office where he made the offer for the integrated prom, then when he addressed the senior class to see if the kids wanted to do it, and we conducted numerous interviews with the kids and parents. Morgan provided the moral high ground for the story and is the common thread throughout the film.
It took a lot of courage for the kids to talk openly with us. We got responses from these young people that were truly eloquent, heartfelt, and courageous.
Q: What kind of reactions have you gotten from the viewing audience?
A: The response has been overwhelmingly positive. People have said to us many times that after seeing it, they feel hope and joy. They think the kids in the film are remarkable.
Saltzman’s career has spanned four decades and he has produced some intriguing projects such as the renowned photo-journal he shot while learning meditation with the Beatles in India in the 1960s. To view more information on Saltzman go to www.promnightinmississippi and www.thebeatlesinindia.com
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