|NYWIFT/HSBC screening series: Jesse Owens
Join us for a free screening of the documentary Jesse Owens, produced and directed by NYWIFT member Laurens Grant, and written and produced by Stanley Nelson—the team behind the Emmy-winning documentary Freedom Riders. Director and producer Laurens Grant will be available for a Q&A after the screening.
“He is the quintessential Olympic hero. He stood up to racists in Germany, he stood up to racists at home and he did it with a grace and a genius that have not been equaled.”
—Jeremy Schaap, ESPN reporter and author of Triumph: The Untold Story of Jesse Owens and Hitler's Olympics
Jesse Owens was the most famous athlete of his time, whose stunning triumph at the 1936 Olympic Games captivated the world, even as it infuriated the Nazis. Despite the racial slurs he endured, his grace and athleticism rallied crowds around the world. Yet when the four-time Olympic gold medalist returned home, he couldn’t even ride in the front of a bus. Jesse Owens is the story of the 22-year-old son of a sharecropper who triumphed over adversity to become a hero and world champion. But his story is also about the elusive, fleeting quality of fame, and the way Americans idolize athletes when they suit our purpose and forget them once they don’t.
It is hard to imagine a more politically charged atmosphere than the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Originally opposed to the idea of the games, German Chancellor Adolf Hitler was convinced by his propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels that they were the perfect opportunity to showcase the superiority of Aryan athletes. Hitler presided over the opening day ceremonies, whipping the crowds into a frenzy of excitement. On August 3, when Jesse Owens stepped into the massive new Olympic Stadium in Berlin, the crowd went silent with anticipation, sitting on the edge of their seats to see the much-talked-about track star from America compete against the Germans. Running on a muddy track, Owens equaled both the Olympic and world records of 10.3 seconds in the 100-meter dash and won his first gold medal. Tradition called for the leader of the host country to congratulate the winner but Hitler refused. “Do you really think,” the German leader said, “I will allow myself to be photographed shaking hands with a Negro?”
The film will premiere on the PBS series American Experience on Tuesday, May 1, 2012, at 8:00 pm (check local listings).
Laurens Grant is a multiple Emmy–winning documentary filmmaker. She won a Primetime Emmy as the producer of the documentary Freedom Riders. Grant has also co-produced two specials for PBS: Slavery and the Making of America: Seeds of Destruction and Latin Music USA: The Chicano Wave. She has also produced and directed documentaries for A&E and The History Channel, and she has directed films in Africa and Latin America. Before working in documentary, she was a foreign correspondent in Latin America and headed up the Panama bureau for Reuters, where she wrote for Newsweek and the San Francisco Chronicle, among other publications.
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NYWIFT programs, screenings and events are made possible, in part, by public funds from New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council, New York State Council on the Arts, the New York State Legislature and Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences Foundation.
Last updated: Dec. 7, 2012