SOUTHERN RITES follows photographer Gillian Laub as she returns to the community in Georgia where she documented segregated proms that garnered national attention when her photographs were published in 2009. The proms are now integrated; but in the aftermath of a fatal shooting of a young black man and in the midst of a heated local election, the community still grapples with issues of race that extend well beyond the senior prom. Directed by Laub , the documentary was executive produced by acclaimed musician John Legend.
As the divisive case unfolds, Laub also chronicles the campaign of police chief Calvin Burns to become Montgomery County’s first black sheriff eight miles away. Burns’ daughter, Keyke, who says Justin Patterson was her first love, works to elect her father, and is outspoken about the community’s racial divide.t
SOUTHERN RITES features revealing interviews with people involved in both stories, who offer complex reflections on how well-worn racial lines may have informed the outcome of both events. The film closes as students prepare for a newly merged prom, capturing them happily dancing and celebrating together.
Laub explains, “I am hoping the film can start conversations that are really hard to have, but are necessary in order for us to move forward.” Executive producer John Legend, who lends a new song, “We Still Believe,” to the documentary, remarks, “By the end of the film, you see some sense that people might start coming together, so that gives me some hope.”
Gillian Laub, a well-known visual artist whose photographs have appeared in Time and the New Yorker, has spent more than a decade documenting disparate cultures around the world, from the Middle East to the Deep South, through vivid, iconic portraits. She received Nikon’s Storyteller Award in 2005. In addition to making her directorial debut with the documentary, Laub’s other “Southern Rites” projects include a photography book and an exhibit.
HBO Documentary Films presents A Group Effort Films Production in association with Get Lifted Film Co. & the Atom Factory; directed and produced by Gillian Laub; written and produced by Josh Alexander; executive produced by Troy Carter, John Legend, Mike Jackson; edited by Nancy Novack, Joel Plotch; supervising editor, Geof Bartz, A.C.E.; original music by Joel Goodman; co-executive producers, Michael Laub, Ty Stiklorius. For HBO: supervising producer, Lisa Heller; executive producer, Sheila Nevins.