Sunday, September 03, 2023

Rustin (world premiere in the presence of George C. Wolfe)

George C. Wolfe: Rustin (US 2023) featuring Colman Domingo as Bayard Rustin.

Made possible by a donation from Carol Bobo.
Palm, Telluride Film Festival (TFF), 2 Sep 2023.
In the presence of George C. Wolfe, Bruce Cohen and Tonia Davis.

B. Ruby Rich (TFF 2023): " Bayard Rustin is the unsung hero of the civil rights era, the mastermind of the 1963 March on Washington and Martin Luther King’s closest confidante—until deemed a liability to “the movement” because he was a gay ex-Communist. George C. Wolfe’s period film puts character before characters and feelings before history lessons, offering political organizing as something akin to an action-adventure movie. Colman Domingo is spectacular as Rustin, bursting with intellect and charm. A new generation of Black organizers flock to him, eager to pioneer new strategies (and have fun, like Rustin). Anyone who has seen SELMA and TILL and who thinks they already know this era needn’t hesitate: this one is different. Thanks to a script by Julian Breece and Dustin Lance Black, and an all-star cast, Bayard Rustin and his legacy will be forgotten no longer. " –RR (U.S., 2023, 99 m) In person: George C. Wolfe

Festival premiere: 31 Aug 2023 Telluride Film Festival.

AA: Celebrating the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington (for Jobs and Freedom), on 28 August 1963, famous for Martin Luther King's "I Have a Dream" speech. At a participation rate of 250.000 people it is a contender for the largest political rally in US history. It was a catalyst to landmark legislation: the 1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act.

The screening started with a special video address to the Telluride Film Festival by Barack Obama. Barack Obama and Michelle Obama are executive producers of Rustin.

Rustin is an engrossing historical epic about the backstory to the March on Washington, a landmark event in the history of human rights. It culminates in the march itself but omits obvious details: the "I Have a Dream" quote is missing. Instead we hear Martin Luther King declaring that "we are all God's children".

In the context of films in recent memory, Rustin can be seen as a prequel to Ava DuVernay's Selma, the account of the third march, mounted in 1965 to promote voting rights and as a reaction to the tragedy of the four little girls murdered in Birmingham.

The campaigns are a classic case of peaceful resistance, and the film is an engrossing story of the complex organisation, including security measures with no weapons allowed. 

The protagonist is a mastermind and unsung right hand man of Martin Luther King, Bayard Rustin, portrayed by the screenwriters Julian Breece and Dustin Lance Black, the dircetor George C. Wolfe and the actor Colman Domingo with warts and all. His charismatic presence and dogged willpower help create a tremendous team spirit and an atmosphere of happy optimism. The suspense of the narrative emerges from the many obstacles, conflicts and disagreements among the Black leaders, and attempts by the establishment to prevent, minimize and diminish the event.

The linear main story allows montages covering decades of recent history and flashbacks of Rustin's brutal treatment both as a Black man and a homosexual. He is outed in order to disgrace the march and to exclude him from the event of which he is a mastermind. But he is not  crushed. Neither does he lose his sunny disposition. The show goes on with him.

The film proceeds like a big party, restless and dynamic, chaotic at first, finding a firm sense of high collective spirit in the finale. The passion and energy of religion and music is central, and in the end Lenny Kravitz sings "Road to Freedom" 

Archival footage and authentic telecasts blend seamlessly in the historical drama. A great cast lights up the screen in every scene.

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