Two Towns of Jasper

PBS Premiere: Jan. 22, 2003Check the broadcast schedule »

Filmmaker Interview

POV: What is your motivation as a filmmaker? Why did you choose documentary in this case?

Williams: To change the world. For me there are some stories suited to fiction while others to non-fiction. In the case of Two Towns of Jasper, the story was on-going — live so to speak. I thought why wait to write fiction when I could observe the story unfold and that — a real story happening as you watch it — is ultimately more compelling than fiction can ever be.

Dow: People, and the lives they lead, fascinate me, as I believe that everybody lives an epic life. I feel fortunate to be the person who has, at times, the opportunity to document some of these lives as they unfold. Two Towns of Jasper was one of those opportunities.

POV: What generally inspires your interest?

Dow: I am interested in intimate human stories that help explicate broader societal issues. I also believe that documentaries are valuable tools for helping us better understand the strengths and weakness of what it means to be human.

Williams: Race, identity, justice or injustice, a compelling story.

POV: What inspired you to make Two Towns of Jasper?

Williams: I was inspired to make Two Towns in part because of my acute recognition of how much race plays a role in division between Americans. Obviously, the murder illustrates this fact in a most disturbing way. But in my earliest conversation with Whitney about the murder what stood out most profoundly was the fact that even though he and I are from the northeastern part of the U.S., and even though we both attended Ivy Leagues schools, and even though we have known each other for nearly twenty years, we responded to the murder very differently. While Whitney was shocked and surprised, I was disturbed but neither shocked nor surprised because black people have been brutally murdered in America for over three hundred years. With our differences so vivid, I thought that by collaborating with Whitney on a film about race, one that embraced the idea that black and white Americans see the world differently, we might be able to be part of bridging that difference.

Dow: Like many people, I was profoundly affected by the murder of James Byrd Jr., and what it said about the state of race relations in America at the close of the 20th century. Then, during a trip to Jasper two weeks after the murder, I was struck by how much Jasper was like so many other cities and towns in America, and thought it would be interesting to document how this "everytown" coped with an incident that challenged everything they believed about themselves.

POV: What were your goals in making Two Towns of Jasper? And what would you like to see happen with it?

Dow: Our goal in making Two Towns of Jasper was to help create a basis for a more honest discussion about race in America. Marco and I felt that there was no functional language to honestly discuss race, across race. We thought that perhaps it would be more productive for whites and blacks listen to each other talking about the things that concern them, rather then each side trying to explain their position to the other.

Williams: My goal was to give an accurate portrayal of the town, specifically the black community, and to give its members a forum for expressing their views on the murder, the town and race relations in the town.

I would like to see the film be used in proactive ways, challenging its viewers to confront difference, to understand their differences, and to compel them to talk and take action to effect change in their lives, their communities, their/our world.

POV: What was the most surprising thing to you in making Two Towns of Jasper?

Williams: How resistant prospective funding sources were to the idea of segregated crews. I was also caught off guard by the muted rage in the black community of Jasper. I later understood that many blacks were afraid to speak out because of fear for jobs and their lives.

Dow: I was surprised at how badly white people were looking for an opportunity to honestly express their views on race. I think that whites are very conflicted about their relationship with the black community, and feel that when they discuss race in public, they are often forced to define their views in a politically-correct way that does not accurately express their feelings.

POV: What are you currently working on or what would you like to be working on?

Dow: I have a number of projects, both narrative and documentary, that I am currently developing. They vary widely in subject and theme, but most deal in some way with the idea of reconciliation.

Williams: I am presently researching the life story of a man who was a member of a black revolutionary organization in the 1970's who hijacked an Air Canada plane from Toronto to Cuba. He is presently in a Canadian jail. I am also developing a fiction script on DNA and the criminal justice system.