Filmmaker spotlights human spirit in 'Freedom Riders'

Laurens Grant, producer of the film Freedom Riders, photographed in Lexington on  Sunday, January 15, 2012. Photo by Mark Ashley  13317
Laurens Grant, producer of the film Freedom Riders, photographed in Lexington on Sunday, January 15, 2012. Photo by Mark Ashley 13317 Mark Ashley©2011

Laurens Grant hopes people who see her film Freedom Riders this Martin Luther King Day at The Kentucky Theatre will "fully appreciate and realize the power of the human spirit."

"It's a film about everyday people who wanted to have a better America for everybody. It's gripping, powerful, yet full of hope," said Grant, the multi-Emmy Award-winning documentary filmmaker who produced Freedom Riders.

The film, which runs nearly two hours, will be shown free at 2 p.m. Monday. It tells the story of hundreds of civil rights activists who challenged racial segregation in the early 1960s. They traveled together in small groups and sat where they chose on buses and trains to demand equal access to terminal restaurants and waiting rooms.

The film's showing is being sponsored by the non-profit One World Films.

Grant will be a special guest at the showing, sharing her experiences in filming the documentary.

She also will talk about filmmaking as a career at the Downtown Arts Center at 5:30 p.m. Monday. That is also a free event.

Grant, who lives in Manhattan, said she thought she knew about the Freedom Riders when she started on the project, "but I had no idea about the dangers they faced and how multifaceted they were. They were intergenerational, interracial and interfaith who wanted to do what was right."

Grant said she was honored to work on the film when PBS contacted her about it.

The Illinois native studied journalism at Northwestern University. She also worked as a foreign correspondent, heading up the Reuters bureau in Panama. Her work for PBS includes the recently released Latin Music USA: The Chicano Wave and the Emmy-winning Slavery and the Making of America: Seeds of Destruction. She currently is directing a documentary about the 1936 Berlin Games and African-American Jesse Owens' historic four gold medal wins in Adolf Hitler's Nazi Germany.

Lexington Mayor Jim Gray, who welcomed Grant to Lexington on Sunday night, said it was "another uplifting note for Lexington" that Grant's visit and the showing of Freedom Riders come on the heels of Lexington's Nikky Finney winning the 2011 National Book Award for poetry.

Grant, who premiered Freedom Riders last January at the Sundance Film Festival and has shown it on PBS and across the United States and other countries, said she particularly enjoys watching it with new audiences.

"People cry when they see it, sometimes laugh, and become very thoughtful when they watch it," she said. "It's a great American story."

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