Why did you want to make a film about Harry Belafonte?
Harry actually came to me with the film and we spoke for many, many hours. At one point, he took my hand, his eyes filled with tears, and he said, "I'm so worried that I'm not going to be passing the baton." At that moment that I was reminded that when I was 15, I wanted to march with Martin Luther King from Selma to Montgomery. Now I have a 15-year-old daughter who is filled with the same passion and desire to change the world I was, but with no leaders or organized movements to turn to. I thought that making this film would help to pass the baton and provide my daughter's generation with a roadmap.
You include some remarkable footage of Harry acting in plays early in his career and candid moments with Martin Luther King.
I worked with a wonderful archivist, Helen Weiss, and we went deep into the archival footage. Whether it was from home movies or footage from around the world that hadn't yet been seen, I wanted to give life to this story. It was a challenge. I didn't want this to be another talking head film. I wanted it to have the feel of history, not just the fact of history. I wanted the viewer to really experience the story as if it were first-hand.
Was the footage in good shape when you found it?
It's criminal of what's happening with archives now. So much of what we'd found was only on film and hadn't been converted to any other format. The networks didn't know what they had. The footage of all the performers the night before the march to Montgomery—Tony Bennett, Shelly Winters, that whole group—was in the basement of ABC. It looked as if a cat had used as a scratching post, but we were able to have it restored.