1. Why Children of the Civil Rights, what drew you to this story?
First and foremost, the power and the strength of the young really impressed me. The sit ins in Oklahoma City went on for so long, they went on for six years — six years! Can you imagine what that was like for a kid to participate week after week in something like that? Another thing that really impressed me was how, during that whole time the kids demonstrations, not once did it ever erupted into violence.
The kids were super successful. According to Jimmy Stewart, Sr., who was president of the Oklahoma City NAACP branch during that time, the kids turned around every restaurant throughout the city except one. That’s a terrific example of democracy at it’s best, when you think about it.
I grew up in Oklahoma yet, I never knew this story. I remember learning in school about the four college students in Greensboro North Carolina, who started sit-ins during the Civil Rights Movement. What took place here in Oklahoma, my own home state, never came up in our school lessons. That really surprised me.
I first heard this story in 2006, five years after 9-11. The Patriot Act traded freedoms for security and, by 2006, I didn’t really feel I had a voice, that what I did in my life could ever make a difference in our democracy. When I stumbled onto this story, everything changed.
2. Why do you think this story is just now surfacing? Why did it take so long for you to hear this story?
I don’t think this story really surfaced in mainstream media (and later the history books) mainly because it never got violent. Because it didn’t get violent, it never really made national news — except once, when a movie star, Charlton Heston, came to Oklahoma City and marched with the kids. Another piece of the puzzle is that Oklahomans don’t really toot their own horn. When something needs to be done, they do it and then they simply move on.
3. How did you first hear about this story?
I live in Bellingham WA. In 2006, I traveled back to Oklahoma City to visit my parents. During that visit, I asked my father one simple question, “What were the most significant moments in your life?” My dad was fixing coffee at the time, so he poured me a cup. We sat down and he began to talk.
Dad told me about how he participated in sit-ins. He grew up in Boston and attended Boston College, so I asked him, “Do you mean in Boston?” He said, “No, in Oklahoma City.” Well, I was shocked. I had no idea. He was twenty-two at the time and he just moved to Oklahoma six months earlier. He continued to tell me how a group of kids started the Oklahoma City sit-ins. I got really curious then so, I went to the local library.
The more I learned, the more I thought, “Wow, this needs to be shared with schools kids today.” And, what better medium to reach large audiences around the country than film.
4. If you heard the story in 2006, why did it take you so long to produce Children of the Civil Rights?
The story percolated for about a year, then it took a good nine months of researching the story before I started researching who to interview. I knew I needed help so I talked with Bob Ridgley of Binary Recording Studio’s. He’s the best in Bellingham for making this type of film. He agreed to help.
This is an independent film and independent films rarely break even and –more often than not– lose money. This film is no different. No matter how I penciled it out, projections for this film is a loss. Still, some stories are worth telling and this story is one of them. So, instead of going the investor route, we partnered with two different non-profits. Both the Oklahoma City Community Foundation and the Pickford Film Center are our fiscal sponsors. The Oklahoma City Community Foundation has set up a fund or this film so donation to that fund can be tax deductible. I cannot pay myself from those funds, but I can get reimbursed for film expenses. The Pickford also helps when I seek funding from individuals and organizations in the Pacific Northwest.
After all this planning was put into place, then we started filming, August 2008. After the first round of filming, I took a year off to catch up financially. Film is expensive. It was at this time that I started working full time for Vaughn Hagen CPA. From that point forward, I worked full time doing individual and corporate taxes during the whole film making process. I worked on the film anywhere from 10 to 30 hours a week for five solid years. I left Vaughn’s to work full time on completing and marketing the film, last November and we finished the film in time for its regional screenings February 2015.
5. What was the hardest part about making this movie?
One of the earliest hurtles, something I thought a curse, turned into a blessing. I first thought the main part of the story would focus on Clara Luper, the NAACP youth group leader. In some circles, she is called the Mother of the Civil Rights Movement.
I spent a year in pre-production, arranged for the film crew to fly from Bellingham WA to Oklahoma City and three days before the shoot, I found out that I would not be able to interview her. All this money and time spent … I felt sick to my stomach. But, then the idea came to focus on the children. It was the part of the story interested me the most in the first place. We did that and I later found film footage of Clara Luper at the Oklahoma History Center that we were able to use in “Children of the Civil Rights”. What I thought was the worst piece of news turned out to be the best turn of events and the film is a much better story because of it.
Another hurtle for me was handing the project over to someone else to edit. I couldn’t have asked for a better person to take on the task. I had transcribed all the interviews, highlighted the best parts and then woven the parts together with timecode into a two hour long script. Bob Ridgley of Binary Recording Studio’s then took all of it and made it into a one hour long film. He wouldn’t let me in the editing room, a very smart move on his part. Standing back and letting Bob do what he is best at was absolutely critical to creating a fantastic film and he did just that.
Of course, one of the biggest hurtles is money. Making an independent documentary film cost a lot of money, no way around it. It’s a tiny budget compared to Hollywood, but its still a lot of money. I spent time fundraising, then we produced as much as we could, then I went out and raise more money, then repeat.
Our most recent financial hurtle has been raising $33,000 to pay for licensing rights for archival photos and film footage in national photo houses. We’ve whittled that down to $12,500, which we plan on raising this fall. Once we raise that final 12,500, we can release the film nationally.
6. Looking back, with all the hurtles you had to cross, would you do it all again?
Absolutely! In a heartbeat. Where’s the dotted line? Sign me up! In order to go through all that it takes to make a film, you have to have passion for the story. Since its inception from the first time I heard what these young kids did, my passion for this story has never wavered.
7. How did you find some of the original kids who did the sit-ins?
I first met Clara Luper in 2007. My father and I went to her house. Clara was very ill at the time. She shook my hand but didn’t talk. She sat in her chair and just watched; she was so beautiful and full of grace. Her son Calvin was at that first meeting. We showed them the five minute reenactment trailer we had put together. Calvin then gave me a few names to contact. One of the names on his list was Joyce Henderson. Joyce opened doors for me. I met Joyce and she helped me connect to most of the other “kids” that we interviewed in the film.
As we began filming in 2008, during their 50 year anniversary celebration. Ayanna Najuma, one of the original sit-inners had traveled from Washington DC to be a part of the celebrations. She also agreed to an interview. She actually participated all six years, from day one when she was just seven, all the way to when the 1964 Civil Rights Act was made law. Ayanna has become a close friend of our family. She even calls my parent Mom and Dad. It’s been fun to see their relationship grow.
8. The film is finished, now what?
My goal is to reach 100,000 audiences all across the country. Audiences can range in size from a few people sitting in a living room to 500 students and community members sitting in a university auditorium. School classrooms are our main focus, so the average size audience size is estimated at twenty students. The total number of people we expect to reach is two million, that’s 100,000 audiences with an average of twenty people.
We tested the market and this film speaks to junior high students as strongly as it speaks to high school and college students. One student said it’s the best film she ever saw. I assume she meant in the civil rights movement, historical documentary film category, but none-the-less, it touched her deeply.
After screening the film at a library, one of the ladies said, “This film is better than ‘Selma’!” Well, that was music to my ears. But, back to the question … now what?
To start, the next two years will be about building audience. I will be traveling the country organizing screenings and giving school presentations. We are marketing directly to social studies department leaders for junior high and high schools as well as major universities in each of the fifty states. We are also connecting with the 350 plus indie theaters across the country and asking them to screen the film during Black History month, 2016. We are also approaching university and public libraries, community and church organizations, civil right movement groups and museums and we will be reaching out to the press in all major cities throughout the country.
The film’s national release is all of 2016, then we release it internationally in 2017. As we release it internationally, we will approach the PBS stations across the nation, asking those stations to show the film during Black History month 2017. It took time to make and it will take time to build that audience. This story is powerful, it can change lives. I know that is so cliche to say but I believe this to be true; especially with all that is going on now in the news — things that were not being talked about when I first started this project. My ultimate goal is to give this film the fullest life it can possibly have given the limited time, limited resource and unlimited love for this story.
9. How can people help? What can people to today to help you reach your goal?
There are so many ways to help!
- Buy a copy of the film and share it with your family. If you have kids that are ten years old and older, it’s a great family activity to watch the film together, then ask your kids what they thought about the film and about what these kids did fifty years ago and how it applies to today. Ask their opinion and see what they have to say.
- Donate to the film and get your name in the film credits! Or if it’s after November 15th, then donate so that underfunded schools can get a copy of the film or experience school visits.
- Purchase and donate a copy of the film to your favorite History and Social Studies teachers.
- Share a link to this website with your local college or university’s History, Social Studies, African American Studies, libraries, multicultural centers on campus.
- Watch the film and write a review or share a link to this website with your local news or film critic. Let them know that we can send them a link to the film for their review.
- Purchase a House Party packet and invite your friends over. Or use a house party packet for a friend-raiser or fund-raiser.
- Purchase performance licensing rights and show it in a local auditorium or church, then see what kind of conversations come from those who attend
- Let your local library know that you want them to carry a copy so library patrons can see the film.
- Get creative, brainstorm and see what ideas come to you.
10. What is your next project?
Marketing this film is my number one task for a few years to come. Any creative energy I have left over from marketing is spent finishing the ebook/ibook and resource disc and, for those who know me well know, I do love to paint and create. I have a year’s worth of paintings lined up inside of my brain just waiting to be born. I have had to take a break from painting and I am itching for the paintbrush. You can see examples of my artwork/creations by visiting cliffordcreations.com
Taking a break from painting is worth it though. For eight years, I’ve wanted to share that story with people all across the nation and around the world. Film allows me to do that. Our national release is coming right up December/January 2016. The film’s international release takes place early 2017. This story just floored me; it captured my heart and I think it will capture your’s too.