Director: Paola di Florio
Topic: Compelling historical account of Viola Liuzzo, a married mother of five from Detroit, and the only white woman murdered in America’s civil rights movement (in 1965 in Alabama), and her family’s journey to come to terms with her killing and the smear campaign that followed, in which the FBI insinuated she had sexual motives for mingling with blacks. Told through interview, verite and archival footage.
Financier: Privately funded through individuals, in part to respect the Luizzo family’s desire for privacy. One grant from Women in Film.
Budget: A “midrange” documentary; exact figure not provided.
Shooting format: Mainly DV. Some 16mm and Super 8mm.
Why it made the list: The complex interweaving of history, politics, family drama, the women’s movement and the facts of the investigation; its resonance with the current political climate; and the long-overdue resurrection of a civil rights heroine.
Memorable scene: Viola’s grown-up daughter Mary goes deep into the Alabama backwoods to try to find her brother Tommy, whom she hasn’t seen in 20 years. Despite his promise to show, he never materializes, and all Mary is left with are disturbing images of his home, including a black doll with a noose around its neck hanging from a tree.
Distribution/broadcast status: Emerging Pictures released theatrically in New York, Detroit and Montgomery, Ala., in September/October.
Possible future theatrical dates timed to 40th anni of the Selma Voting Rights March in March 2005. Ro*co Films is handling international TV sales.
Box office: $13,100
On making the film: “The fact that this woman stood up for her beliefs and was slandered for it struck a chord,” says Di Florio, whose first docu, “Speaking in Springs,” was Oscar-nominated in 2000. “I was a mom for the first time when I decided to do the film, and I wanted to put a face on that kind of injustice and find out what happened to the kids that survived this.
“I found it kind of ironic that we set out to make this film not knowing where the world was going, and it became more relevant by the time we were done. While we were shooting, the 2000 elections happened, 9/11 happened, our civil rights and civil liberties started to diminish. The film presents issues that are at the core of how Americans are feeling right now.”