June 2013

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A powerful film—THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM—will premiere on the Hallmark Channel on Friday, September 20, 2013. It is the story of an African-American family that leaves their home in Flint, Michigan to visit their grandmother in Birmingham, Alabama in the summer of 1963.

In the film, the family's life is interwoven with the events leading up to the horrific, tragic bombing on Sunday, September 15, 1963 at the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham that killed four girls and injured many others. This African-American congregation had already served as a meeting place for civil rights leaders, and the children's marches for civil rights in May 1963 were organized there.

People around the world witnessed the assault on peaceful children with beatings, fire hoses, and police dogs. Over 900 children were incarcerated. So many bombs had been set off by the Ku Klux Klan in the years preceding this outrage that the city was known as "Bombingham," but the bomb set beneath the Sunday School on that fateful day was so powerful it shredded cars outside in the street and broke windows for blocks away.

After this tragic bombing at the 16th Street Baptist Church, violent clashes erupted that brought the country's attention to the dangers African-Americans suffered in their struggle for civil rights. On May 24, 2013, President Barack Obama honored the slain girls by awarding them the Congressional Gold Medal.

The film's cinematographer, James Chressanthis, ASC, commented, "The characters' lives are inextricably linked to the bombing. It changed lives and our country forever."

The film is based on an adaptation of the award-winning THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM 1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis. The book was awarded the Newbery Honor and Coretta Scott King Honor. The film's script was written by writer/executive producer Tonya Lewis Lee, and directed by acclaimed Tony Award-winning Broadway director Kenny Leon.

"It was a great experience," Chressanthis described his participation in helping to make this film, which took nine years to produce. "I've experienced hatred and bigotry, and I've seen other people suffer from it. We can't tolerate it. That's not right. We need to speak out and do something about it."

Chressanthis directed and produced NO SUBTITLES NECESSARY: LASZLO AND VILMOS, which premiered at Cannes and was shown at the Sedona International Film Festival in 2009. The documentary chronicled the lives and careers of Laszlo Kovacs and Vilmos Zsigmond, film pioneers and great friends for 50 years who reinvented Hollywood filmmaking.

Keep tuned for future columns on the making of the exciting and important THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM. Our next column will feature the movie's creators and cast.

THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM is a presentation of the Walden Family Theater created in collaboration with Walmart, Procter & Gamble, Walden Media, Tonik Productions, and ARC Entertainment.