A Time for Burning Revisited at the Film Forum in NYC

Bill Jersey

Just a quick heads-up…encouraging my FrontRowCenter readers living in the New York metropolitan area to attend a highly anticipated screening and Q&A at Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, in New York City tonight, Tuesday, January 23, 2018.

The landmark documentary, A Time for Burning–filmed in 1965 by my friend, mega-Award-winning documentarian, Bill Jersey–will be screened beginning at 6:20 p.m., followed by a Q&A with Bill.

Now 91 and still thriving as a filmmaker and painter in the bucolic Delaware River town of Lambertville, NJ, Bill has been the focus of several of my filmmaker interviews and FrontRowCenter profiles in the past.

If you are at all interested in learning about the roots of the cinema vérité movement and revisiting the then incendiary 1965 Civil Rights’ film, A Time for Burning, with one of the movement’s masters, do yourself a favor and head over to the Film Forum.

Bill Jersey shared the back story of A Time for Burning with me for FrontRowCenter: 

Bill Jersey: “In 1965 an unusual event occurred in the history of documentary filmmaking. A film was made that criticized its funder. The Lutheran Church hired me to make a film for them on the church’s response to racial tension.  The church fathers had hoped to show their organization responding effectively to the tension embroiling the country over this issue, but it was not turning out that way.

A TIME FOR BURNING explores a Lutheran minister's (right) attempt to integrate his congregation in Omaha, Nebraska, circa 1965. Photo courtesy Bill Jersey.

A TIME FOR BURNING explores a Lutheran minister’s (right) failed attempt to integrate his congregation in Omaha, Nebraska, circa 1965. Photo courtesy Bill Jersey.

A Time for Burning tells the story of a white Lutheran minister forced to resign over his commitment to Civil Rights as he attempted to integrate his all-white congregation in Omaha, Nebraska.

“One Omaha church member said of the potential African-American congregants: ‘I want God to bless them as much as he blesses me… I just can’t be in the same room with them.’ Another said, ‘I don’t see the problem… I had a Negro in my gym class.’ An African-American barber commented on the white churchgoers:  ‘Your Jesus is contaminated–just like everything else you do!’

“I realized the film I was making was not what the Lutheran Church had in mind, so I offered them the chance to terminate my contract and the project. But the church bravely said: ‘Finish it and offer it for broadcast.’

“All three networks turned it down because–as an early example of the cinema vérité style–it had no host, no narrator and no identifying subtitles. But the film received rave reviews from TV critics and magazine and newspaper reviewers in every major city. Fred Friendly, then President of CBS News, said it was the finest Civil Rights’ film ever made.

A Time for Burning subsequently received an Oscar nomination, was selected by the Smithsonian for its permanent collection and, in 2012, was blown up to 35mm from the original 16mm film by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.”Ω

Although it was filmed in 1965, A Time for Burning continues to resonate and spark heated discussion, given the racially divisive climate being ignited nationwide by POTUS. A featured selection of Film Forum’s “60’s VÉRITÉ Special Events” series, A Time for Burning begins screening at 6:20 p.m., followed by a Q&A with Bill Jersey, at Film Forum, 209 West Houston Street, New York, NY 10014. –Judith Trojan

About Judith Trojan

Judith Trojan is an Award-winning journalist who has written and edited several thousand film and TV reviews and celebrity profiles.
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