On the making of a movie to honor "I have a dream" speech

Posted Aug 20, 2013 | Center for Pastoral Excellence


By Elizabeth Myer Boulton

MLK Video We had everything we needed: a rhetorical masterpiece, local clergy, elementary and high school students, seminarians, prominent leaders in the struggle for justice, musicians, and a fantastic Indianapolis mural by Chicago-based artist Lamar Damon Reed to be our backdrop. We had everything we needed—but when it all came together, what was truly amazing was how we all became more than the sum of our parts.

As a budding filmmaker, I’ve seen this happen before, but never more clearly than when we set out to reimagine the final four minutes of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech. In those last few days when we were putting everything together, everything just seemed to fall into place. It felt very instinctive. The film seemed to have its own tempo; it told us where to linger and when to layer music upon voice, or dance upon image, to convey King’s passion for justice and freedom.

The first thing we did was decide on the backdrop image (from the local mural), and then build the set. On the day of the shoot, person after person came in to deliver those wonderful words: kids, adults, seniors, everyone you see in the film. South African theologian Allan Boesak also came by, which was a special honor for all of us. It was stirring and inspiring to hear those words of hope through so many different people, so many different voices, a rainbow, a symphony of humanity. Then the dancers came, and then Ricky McCray (who sang). The score was added last, with Jason Powell playing along while listening to the words and performances.

A few of my favorite moments in the film are Bere Gil Soto’s sweet spirit, Jason’s intuitive score, and Ricky’s voice in speech and in song. For me, those words are really an American treasure, humanity’s treasure, and what better way to hear them than to hear them through so many accents and styles and passions and hearts? It’s a beautiful symbol, in my mind at least, for how, when we come together as more than the sum of our parts, we can do great things.

Elizabeth Myer Boulton is the President and Creative Director of the SALT Project. She's ordained in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and has served as the Minister of Discipleship at Old South Church in Boston and senior pastor of Hope Church. She holds degrees from Trent University and the University of Chicago Divinity School.

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