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April 06, 2013 | posted in Filmmakers
Summer 1965. A young Canadian student, Paul Saltzman, heads south to volunteer with the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) during their voter registration campaign in Mississippi.
While there, he was imprisoned for his views and assaulted by Byron “Delay” De La Beckwith, a prominent member of the Ku Klux Klan and the son of the man who would later be convicted for the murder of civil rights leader Medgar Evers.
Saltzman, who was named after Paul Robeson—an African-American athlete, singer, actor and advocate for civil rights—had civil rights instilled in him at a very young age. His parents admired Robeson’s courage and willingness to risk career and fame for rights for all people around the world.
“I was mainly brought up with the prime directive: ‘do unto others as you would have them do unto you,’” he says.
So in 1964 when the murders of James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Schwerner, three young civil rights workers, occurred in Mississippi by the KKK, Saltzman was motivated to get involved and pursue civil rights.
In 2007, almost 50 years later Saltzman returned to Mississippi “to see what had changed and not changed” since he was there in 1965.
During that return visit he decided to reconnect with De La Beckwith, and that meeting, and subsequent interviews, were the impetuses for his film, “The Last White Knight.”
“When I first saw him [De La Beckwith] … and we shake hands, I was nervous,” admits Saltzman. “I hadn’t expected to feel this.”
Later, he realized “it was cellular memory of the fear of the original assault,” he says. After that initial reaction, Saltzman soon felt his usual self “… and relaxed in our conversations,” he says. For the next five years, Saltzman met and filmed De La Beckwith another five times.
“What surprised me the most,” continues Saltzman, about these meetings ”was his willingness to not only meet and talk with me, but to be honest and real about his thoughts and feelings” – whether they were unpopular or not.
And De La Beckwith was surprised that Saltzman cared to hear him and understand him.
Whether you’re in Ohio, Mississippi, or a province of Canada, racial issues are everywhere. “I made this film to encourage and explore non-violent communication,” says Saltzman. “I hope audiences are moved to look at the prejudices within each one of us and to find some interest in non-violent communication.”
CIFF patrons may remember his 2008 documentary feature, "Prom Night in Mississippi,” which was also filmed during the time he was in Mississippi,
“I just started making films about subjects that gave me courage,” says Saltzman. “And kept going.”
—Anne M. DiTeodoro
Photo by Janet Macoska
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