BOB GARFIELD: We're back with On the Media. I'm Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. This week the PBS series POV aired the documentary called Two Towns of Jasper. Also this week ABC's Nightline ran a series of programs devoted to the film and the reaction in Jasper, Texas. In 1998, James Byrd, Jr., a black man, was beaten and chained to a truck in Jasper. He was dragged for 3 miles until his body was torn apart. Two friends, two filmmakers --one black, one white -- decided to collaborate on a film that would follow the trial of the three white men accused of the crime. One would film the reaction of the white Jasper; the other the black community. Later, through editing, they integrated both versions into a single film -- one with an extraordinary degree of candor. Shortly after Two Towns of Jasper played at Sundance last year, we interviewed the two filmmakers, Whitney Dow and Marco Williams.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Marco Williams, welcome to the show!
MARCO WILLIAMS: Thank you very much for having me!
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And Whitney Dow, thanks for coming in.
WHITNEY DOW: Oh, thank you.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Did you two find yourselves sometimes not on common ground in editing the film?
WHITNEY DOW: It was an exceedingly difficult process because we didn't review each other's footage for the entire year that we shot, so I never saw what he shot; he never saw what I shot. We would talk periodically, and if I happened to be going by his hotel room, I might see a couple of frames that he shot, but we didn't -we didn't, we didn't view the stuff. Then we--
BROOKE GLADSTONE: That's amazing! Why did you make that choice?
WHITNEY DOW: Because we really wanted to give each other the opportunity to really immerse themselves in their own community and really s--find the story there without any advocacy from the other side - to say - really to be able to come back and say this is what I found. Once we completed shooting, we then worked independently of each other for six months with separate editors. By happenstance, I had a black editor; Marco had a white editor. And we cut scenes, sequences, ideas that showed what we had investigated, and then we presented that material to each other. So it was really 18 months before we even saw what each other was up to. Then we brought in a third editor and took those set of scenes and together we started to build a narrative out of those scenes.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And what do you think you got that you wouldn't have gotten if the black director and cinematographer went to talk to white members of the community and the races were reversed on the other side. Give me an example.
WHITNEY DOW: There was a scene where a group of Whites are sitting around the table and they're talking about why they use the word "nigger." [SOUND CLIP FROM FILM TWO TOWNS OF JASPER]
MAN: You know I'm amazed at how easily offended people have become. Well I don't mind telling you I was raised with the, with the word "nigger" -- but it had no negative connotation in my life.
WHITNEY DOW: They're all sort of agreeing with each other -sitting around the table -- yeah, I never thought it was wrong. I never thought it was wrong! So it, it's that type of thing. I think that with Marco in that situation there's no way that they would have been as frank in their discussion of that word as they would with me there.
MARCO WILLIAMS: I think that the-- the evidence of this approach being effective within the black community is somewhat more subtle. One scene is of Walter Diggles. He is the most prominent bureaucrat in the town. He's the head of an organization, a county organization, and he's on a driving range. [SOUND CLIP FROM FILM TWO TOWNS OF JASPER]
WALTER DIGGLES: Yeah, I mean that's a good hit ball. [LAUGHS] There's still a problem in this country with the perception of Blacks that you and I are not going to be able to just erase, because we can't control the heart of somebody else. We can't change a white man's heart.
MARCO WILLIAMS: On first blush you'd say he's talking -- if he was talking across race, he's talking about we as black people. But in fact he's really saying "we" - myself - Jonathan - the cameraman - both black men there -- you know, you know what, Marco - we're - we can't tell what's in a white person's heart.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Is there a scene where both of you agree --God, we just nailed that. We could not have gotten it any other way.
MARCO WILLIAMS: The confrontation between Ethel Parks and Louis Berry on the courthouse lawn during the third trial where this is the only time in the course of the entire film where black and white face off with each other. The white crew is on one side, filming their white character, and the black crew is on the other side filming their black character -- that allows us to intercut it seamlessly like a fiction film.
ETHEL PARKS: These tattoos.
LOUIS BERRY: The tattoos, huh?
ETHEL PARKS: That was a symbol that he didn't like black people - those tattoos.
LOUIS BERRY: The tattoos were bad. We don't agree with them.
ETHEL PARKS: I have a lot of pity for him. But do you realize if he don't get the death penalty, he goes to prison--
WOMAN: He's gonna die too. [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
ETHEL PARKS: -- he's gonna die anyway, or he's going to be tortured. [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
WOMAN: He's gonna die! [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
ETHEL PARKS: Do you realize this? [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
LOUIS BERRY: We realize this.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I'm still not clear on how your two intentions collided.
WHITNEY DOW: Let me, let me give you an example. You're cutting a sequence on - you know, any, any subject - is the first scene in that sequence with a black person? Is the last one with a white person? Who sets the agenda for the sequence? Who seems to be the driving force? Editing is a very subjective process.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How did your relationship change? Did it bring you closer or further apart?
WHITNEY DOW: How deeply we are divided by our cultures is-- was not apparent to me before we started the project, and I think that I recognize now that the gulf that divides us -- because simply of growing up as a white American -- him growing up as a black American -- is -- much greater than I thought, and not-- necessarily bridgeable in my mind.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Marco?
MARCO WILLIAMS: I, I don't think I entered into this with this naivete or of optimism that, you know, "we shall overcome." But I did feel profoundly disturbed by how deep the chasm of our racial experiences are and that friendship alone doesn't bridge it, and it -- there's much more needed to really get to an understanding -- which I think is the positive of what Whitney and I went through. We essentially had to roll up our sleeves and confront the racial divide on a daily basis.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: What one is left with, after seeing the film, is the sense that things have changed, but they can never really be resolved.
WHITNEY DOW: Yes, things have changed, but they aren't resolved. But there is the potential for individual change -- within all of us -- and that to look for wholesale sea change is perhaps not where we should be looking.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Marco?
MARCO WILLIAMS: In my view, it's not enough for us just to see one individual white person change or another. It's that we want to see a greater social change. I believe that for white people it's much harder to understand the nature of the institutional racisms, and, and that's what I like about our film, and I think this is where we were quite successful is that our respective viewpoints as filmmakers, our respective viewpoints as a black and white man, and the multifaceted viewpoints of a town are represented.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Thank you very much, Marco Williams--
MARCO WILLIAMS: Thank you very much.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: -- and Whitney Dow, thanks to you.
WHITNEY DOW: Thank you very much for having us.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: On Thursday, ABC's Nightline convened a town meeting in Jasper. Here's an exchange between host Ted Koppel and black business leader Walter Diggles, one of several where Koppel tried to coax some candor out of a community still very much on the defensive. [SOUND CLIP FROM NIGHTLINE TOWN MEETING/JASPER]
TED KOPPEL: You know we in the media, we tend to sweep in, and we suck up all the -- we suck all the marrow out of the bone, and then we get the hell out of town-- before we have had the chance to do the kind of National Geographic documentary that you'd like us to do. Right?
WALTER DIGGLES: That's right. And Ted, I think if you look at-- [BOTH SPEAK AT ONCE]
TED KOPPEL: But nevertheless-- [LAUGHTER] All right? Nevertheless--
WALTER DIGGLES: Yeah, sure.
TED KOPPEL: -- there were some terrible things--
WALTER DIGGLES: Yeah.
TED KOPPEL: -- that happened here. You're telling me it was just an aberration? Is that what you're saying?
WALTER DIGGLES: I, I think the people who, who did the crime were not reflective of the community as a whole.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The AP reports that some local officials debated whether to attend Nightline's town hall meeting fearing a backlash from residents who have grown tired of seeing their political and religious leaders on TV. Said former district attorney Guy James Gray, "There are a lot of people out here who think: 'well, if y'all wouldn't talk, there wouldn't be a show, and it would go away.'" And he added "I don't think it's ever going away." Two Towns of Jasper has not been released nationally but can be seen through March in a few cities. For screening dates and locations go to our web site at onthemedia.org. [MUSIC]