If you go
What: Rev. Martin Luther King Jr: A Personal Portrait
When: 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 8
Where: University Center Auditorium
Admission: Free and open to the public
Details: Filmmaker George Silano screens a documentary made inside the home of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965. The film was lost for decades and never shown to the public until 2013. Silano will speak and do a Q&A at the screening.
In 1997, George Silano “had an epiphany.”
“I wonder what happened to that film?” he asked himself.
“That film” was Rev. Martin Luther King Jr: A Personal Portrait, which he directed in 1965 and marked the only time a film crew was allowed inside the Atlanta home of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
For about four days, the film crew came to King’s home and interviewed him and his wife Coretta, capturing them in a family setting.
“I had a wonderful week with him,” Silano said in a 2013 interview. “I thought it was great because he was so relaxed.”
The interview was conducted by famed journalist Arnold Michaelis, who, during his career, interviewed everyone from John Wayne and Leonard Bernstein to Eleanor Roosevelt and Indira Gandhi. He personally funded the making of the King documentary.
Once filming was complete, Michaelis took the raw film and Silano went on to other work as a cinematographer, including several CBS documentaries and feature films such as The Last American Hero with Jeff Bridges and Taps with Tom Cruise, Sean Penn and George C. Scott. For years, Silano didn’t think about the King documentary until 1997, when he read about Michaelis’ death.
“I lost track of Arnold and never knew what happened to the film,” said Silano, the only living member of the film crew.
The name of Michaelis’ daughter was in his obituary; Silano tracked her down to Atlanta, called her and asked about the film. “She never saw it, either,” he said.
She told him, however, that her father donated all his work to the archives at the University of Georgia. And that’s where Silano found it.
The first time he saw the fully finished, 54-minute piece, he was struck by “the power of it.”
“It was a brand-new experience to see it assembled, the power of his thoughts on various subjects. … Every time I see it, I’m still moved by it.”
Silano says the film probably was never screened because the TV networks declined to show it and Michaelis couldn’t find any other avenues for showing it.
Filmed only two months after he had won the Nobel Peace Prize, King discusses not only the Civil Rights Movement but a host of other subjects, including his strong opposition to the Vietnam War.
“He absolutely took a stand and was willing to go wherever it took him. He was like a clipper ship,” Silano says. “He’s a great example of a man who had pure ideas.”