Freedom On My Mind

Freedom On My Mind - Variety
February 14-20, 1994


    Freedom On My Mind by Emmanuel Levy

A Clarity Film Prods. film. Produced, directed by Connie Field, Marilyn Mulford. Written, edited by Michael Chandler. Camera (b&w, color), Michael Chinn, Steve Devita, Vicente Franco. music, Mary Watkins; sound, Don Thomas, Larry Loewinger, Curtis Choy; associate producer, Hardy Frye. Reviewed at Sundance Film Festival Park City, Jan. 28, 1994. Running time 104 MIN.


Telling the dramatic story of the Mississippi voter registration project from 1961 to 1964, "Freedom on My Mind" is a landmark documentary that chronicles the most tumultuous and significant years in the history of the civil rights movement. Though its style and format may be a bit conventional for exploring such a riveting topic, the importance of the issue, which is placed in a broader political context, should make -- Connie Field and Marilyn Mulford's documentary a must-see, particularly for students. Pic won top docu prize from the jury at the Sundance fest.


Saga is told through the recollections of a few courageous blacks, mostly local Mississippi sharecroppers, who joined forces with committed organizers. Their personal stories are truly mesmerizing, showing how "second class" citizens -without any formal education, political power or experience - 5 changed their lives as a result of their membership in the movement.


Feature's best chapter documents the fateful summer of 1964, when white middle-class students from all over the country went to Mississippi to work. The black members stress the novelty of those encounters and how they were not used to being called by their first names by Southern whites; racism and segregation had become institutionalized down to the most personal interactions.


Pic shows that aside from putting cracks in a calcified society, the movement also performed vital personal functions, by helping to forge identities and supplying meaningful membership in larger collectives than one's own family. As one member puts it: "All my life I felt odd, and then I felt like home." Docu records how activists had to fight racism on two fronts: American society at large and the Democratic Party itself. It details the creation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party and its plan to unseat the all-white segregationist delegates to the Democratic Convention in Atlantic City.


Ultimately, Field and Mulford's feature serves as a testimony to the power of grassroots politics, for the 68-member MFDP delegation consisted of sharecroppers, maids and day laborers. Even though the battle didn't result in immediate victory, it still demonstrated how the highest political authority can be challenged when the struggle concerns such values as equality and justice.


Tech credits are excellent: Intimate personal interviews are augmented by archival footage, some of which has not been seen since it was first shot in the 1960s. What's missing is some kind of epilogue to update the lives of the dozen or so individuals whose lives it celebrates.

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