If there was one movie this year at the Sundance Film Festival that could’ve melted the slopes of Park City with the heat generated by its buzz, it would be Nate Parker‘s “The Birth Of A Nation” (our review). The film got great notices, made the biggest deal in history with Fox Searchlight, and is already earning chatter for next year’s Oscars. But there was a very unlikely helping hand along the way, as Parker made his drama detailing one of the most successful slave rebellions in American history: Mel Gibson.
READ MORE: ‘Birth Of A Nation’ And Beyond: 25 Actors And Filmmakers That Broke Out At The 2016 Sundance Film Festival
Indeed, the picture was a daunting challenge for Parker, who took on a lot in helming his feature directorial debut, but he revealed to Screen Daily how the advice he received from veterans of the industry aided his production, which was incubated at the Sundance Institute.
“I had the benefit of working with some of the best [filmmakers] such as Ed Zwick, who walked me through the battle sequences. I shared an agent – the late Ed Limato – with Mel Gibson and Mel talked me through directing myself as he had done on ‘Braveheart.’ He told me my health was my biggest asset. Sundance then offered different filmmakers to watch me and give me notes,” he shared.
Meanwhile, in a brief but in-depth chat with KPCC‘s “The Frame,” Parker shared where he sees the crossover between activism and moviemaking, and he believes ‘Nation’ can serve a purpose beyond being solely an artistic achievement.
“I think this film can promote and facilitate healing in a country that has wounds that were afflicted during the legacy of slavery and that still affect us today. There are so many things — we deal with the racial tension, we deal with pervasive racism in American culture, pervasive racism in Hollywood. The reality is this comes from somewhere. Whether it be D.W. Griffith‘s propaganda film that came at such a fragile time in American history, that screamed the mantra, Oppress and embrace white supremacy, or die. People felt that by buying into this idea of white supremacy, they would ensure their preservation,” Parker said.
“As we know now, that was misguided, but the reality is, that was our foundation. So for this film I want us to address that trauma. I think this film is an opportunity for us to look at this dark past, see not only the implications of the time, but the themes and parallels of where we are right now. And ask ourselves what systems that parallel those systems exist? And what is our responsibility with respect to addressing those systems and the injustices that those systems carry? So my hope is that this film creates change agents, that people will see it and — if they are moved — that they will know and be encouraged to step into that place of responsibility. That it will create activists of everyone,” he continued. “Because the reality is, there’s racial tension that’s affecting us all. And there’s no one that will deny that. Which means that we all want to heal, that we all want to confront this issue, collectively.”
“I didn’t make this film for black people to only stand up and say, I have something to do, and I have a responsibility. I want all people to say that. I want people to say, What happened during this time was not only wrong. But it created systems that affect us today. And I have a responsibility to deal with those systems when they exist in my environment
Those are some big ambitions Parker laid out, but given the reception so far, it’s clear that “The Birth Of A Nation” is not playing to standard expectations. Listen to the full talk below.