Jon Else
Wednesday, January 25, 2017, 7:00 p.m., City Lights Booksellers, 261 Columbus Avenue, San Francisco

in conversation with Spencer Nakasako and Orlando Bagwell

discussing his new book

True South: Henry Hampton and "Eyes on the Prize," the Landmark Television Series That Reframed the Civil Rights Movement

from Viking Press

The inside story of one of the most important and influential TV shows in history.

Henry Hampton's 1987 landmark multipart television series, Eyes on the Prize, an eloquent, plainspoken chronicle of the civil rights movement, is now the classic narrative of that history. Before Hampton, the movement's history had been written or filmed by whites and weighted heavily toward Dr. King's telegenic leadership. Eyes told the story from the point of view of ordinary people inside the civil rights movement—the "fan ladies" and "ordinary world parishioners," mostly African American. Hampton shifted the focus from victimization to strength, from white saviors to black courage. He recovered and permanently fixed the images we now all remember (but had been lost at the time)—Selma and Montgomery, pickets and fire hoses, ballot boxes and mass meetings.
Jon Else was Hampton's series producer and his moving book focuses on the tumultuous eighteen months in 1985 and 1986 when Eyes was finally created. It's a point where many wires cross: the new telling of African American history, the complex mechanics of documentary making, the rise of social justice film, and the politics of television (the Boston Globe and New York Times published articles about Henry’s bitter funding problems, in which they named major foundations and corporations like IBM, Xerox, and GM that had declined to support his telling the civil rights story). And because Else, like Hampton and many of the key staffers, was himself a veteran of the movement, his book braids together battle tales from their own experiences as civil rights workers in the south in the 1960s.
Eyes re-introduced Emmett Till to a world that had forgotten him and showed us the guts it took to cross the Pettus Bridge in Selma or walk up the school steps in Little Rock. It chronicled that great expansion of American democracy through legal victories, direct action, voter registration, and legislation. Hampton was not afraid to show the movement’s raw realities: conflicts between secular and religious leaders, the shift toward black power and armed black resistance in the face of savage white violence. It is all on the screen, and the fight to get it all into the films was at times as ferocious as the history being depicted. Henry Hampton utterly changed the way social history is told, taught, and remembered today.

Jon Else has produced and directed many award-winning documentaries, including The Day After Trinity and Cadillac Desert. Else has been nominated for two Academy Awards and three Emmys, and is the winner of a MacArthur "Genius" Fellowship and one Emmy, several Alfred I. DuPont and Peabody Awards, and the Sundance Special Jury Prize and Sundance Filmmaker’s Trophy. He is Professor and North Gate Chair in Journalism at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.

Spencer Nakasako is a filmmaker and faculty member in the UC Berkeley School of Journalism. He has served as a Walker Artist in residence from 2001 and 2002. He has developed a unique style of filmmaking that is inextricably intermeshed with social consciousness and community engagement. He has worked with Southeast Asian, at-risk teenagers in the San Francisco's Tenderloin neighborhood, teaching documentary filmmaking and video production. His films include Don Bonus (1995), Kelly Loves Tony (1998) and Refugee (2002)

Orlando Bagwell is an award-winning writer, producer and director, focusing his filmmaking on social and racial issues for the past few decades. His works include the PBS TV series "Eyes on the Prize," about the Civil Rights movement, and “Citizen King,” a portrait of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the last five years of his life. Other films of Mr. Bagwell’s include “Roots of Resistance, He is the new Director of the UC Berkeley School of Journalism. He is also the co-founder of the  Ford Foundation initiative JustFilms,

What has been said about the work of Jon Else:

“No one is better suited to write this moving account of perhaps the greatest American documentary series ever made. Jon Else helped film it, and, two decades earlier, as a civil rights worker in the South, he lived through part of the history involved. He tells the story with the compassion and eloquence it deserves.”
—Adam Hochschild, author of King Leopold's Ghost, Bury the Chains, and To End All Wars

“True South
is the powerful story of a singular black man, Henry Hampton, who combined film and social activism to create the first people’s history of the civil rights movement. Jon Else’s insight into Hampton’s struggle to record and show history to a world in denial calls attention to Eyes on the Prize as a true American epic. It is hard not to be moved by this account––by both its author’s and its subject’s contributions to our society. This is truly great and important book, a magisterial chronicle of how we tell the story of the civil rights movement.”
  —Errol Morris, Academy Award winning director of The Fog of War and The Thin Blue Line
Eyes on the Prize chronicled the small towns and back roads of the Deep South where the civil rights movement took root and flourished. Jon Else takes readers behind the scenes in the decades-long journey of the late Henry Hampton, Eyes’ visionary creator, and the motley team of us who ended up making history by telling this history.  True South captures the blood, sweat and tears of ordinary Americans who fundamentally changed America, and the extraordinary spirit and heart of a man committed to making sure their sacrifice was remembered.”
—Callie Crossley, Academy-award-nominated producer of the "Bridge to Freedom" episode of Eyes on the Prize