Producer/directors Paul Stekler and Daniel McCabe, along with Wallace biographer Dan Carter, present for Q&A following the screening.
It would not be a stretch to look back at George Wallace’s campaigns for President, especially his 1968 3rd party run, as a turning point in America’s national politics, a turning point that led to a conservative era fueled, in part, by reaction to civil rights and the inevitable growing racial diversity of this country.
Before Wallace, the nation’s politics had been dominated by an odd coalition of the ethnic North and a solid South based on resistance to black political and economic rights. Wallace busted that coalition apart, being the face of reaction to LBJ and the civil rights legislation passed as part of his brief Great Society majority in Congress. Wallace gave disaffected, angry whites, who were nominally Democrats, a spot to give their votes in 1968. Eventually they’d vote for Nixon in 1972, come back, in part, to fellow Southerner Jimmy Carter in 1976, but then leave the Democrats for good for Ronald Reagan in 1980. The success of Reagan, in establishing a popular belief that the big government was the enemy, in his words, was only possible with those southern votes. So in that sense, George Wallace begot the Reagan revolution; even if the vulgarity of Wallace, who literally stood in the schoolhouse door to bar black students entrance to the University of Alabama, made everyone who followed in his footprints deny his existence.
The story of George Wallace, an incredible political talent and racial liberal in his youth in the Alabama of the 1950s is the story of what happens when one sells their political soul and finds success beyond their wildest dreams. He dreamt of being Governor of Alabama, but suddenly millions of Americans were willing to vote for him for President. And that maelstrom led him directly in the path of an assassin’s bullets. A story worthy of a Shakespearian tragedy. A story that had a profound impact on the politics of the United States. A story relevant to the election this year. George Wallace: Settin’ the Woods on Fire.
Produced and directed by Paul Stekler, the chair of the University of Texas’ Radio-Television-Film Department, and Daniel McCabe, and based on Dan Carter’s Wallace biography, The Politics of Rage, the film won the Special Jury Prize at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival, along with a national Emmy and a Writer’s Guild Award. It was broadcast over two nights on PBS’s The American Experience series.
The film was called "stunning and probing" by The New York Times, "a full-blown Shakespearean saga... riveting" by the Houston Chronicle, "a brilliant achievement" by the Memphis Commercial Appeal, "a remarkable documentary" by the National Journal, "mesmerizing" by the Boston Globe, and a "gripping documentary, fluent, explosive… swift-paced and seamless" by the Toronto Star. Newsday said it "sets the television on fire," while The Wall Street Journal wrote that the film was a "documentary filled with enough drama and dark comedy, wry twists of fate and fortune, corruption of the spirit and of the body politic, sin and salvation to make fans of The Sopranos forget for a while." And the Texas Observer wrote that the film was "an epic political biography... makes most fictional films seem thin and lifeless by comparison."
Special thanks to Stateside at the Paramount for their hospitality and assistance.