Youngdahl and Christensen in A Time For Burning
Director: Bill Jersey
Studio information: Docudrama, 58 mins.
Race and religion collide in the Heartland.
Omaha, Neb., isn’t exactly remembered as a key battleground in the civil-rights movement.
But this documentary, produced by the Lutheran Church in 1966, captures a small but significant racial upheaval in that city as it unfolded. In an effort to foster dialogue and understanding between races, a white pastor attempted to initiate a modest program of interracial visits with a local black church. The resulting furor nearly tore his congregation apart. Bill Jersey’s verité approach, relying mainly on the narrative of events as they transpired, reflects the documentary school taking flight at the time (best typified by the Maysles brothers in films like the brilliant Salesman
). The immediacy of the approach captures the frustration and anger of the participants. It’s particularly chilling to watch a pious, pipe-smoking church board member mask his bigotry as taking a practical approach, warning that “the timing is bad” for the visits. At the same time another member questions his very faith in light of the intolerance of his fellow congregants. While it’s an important document of the civil-rights struggle that took place 40 years ago, the film is all too relevant today. Bonus material includes commentary by Jersey and a recent interview with the eloquent Ernie Chambers, who was a barber when the film was made and went on to a long career in politics.