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Documentary rolls into town

“Two Trains Runnin’” tells the story of how blues music fans and Civil Rights activists came together in 1964 in Mississippi at a tragic moment in American history.

Award-winning director Sam Pollard and screenwriter/producer Benjamin Hedin will be in Red Wing in March to participate in activities surrounding the Minnesota premier of their film, "Two Trains Runnin.'"

The Anderson Center, the Sheldon Theatre and the Flyway Film Festival are collaborating to present the documentary, which takes place in Mississippi during the 1964 civil rights project that has come to be known as Freedom Summer.

The Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council provided a grant to bring the director and the writer to Red Wing to share not only the creative process, but also the nature of the civil rights movement.

The Anderson Center pursued the film after learning about it from retired Anderson Center Director Robert Hedin, father of Benjamin Hedin, according to Christopher Burawa, current executive director.

Former Red Wing resident Benjamin Hedin, whose great-grandfather founded the Tower View Estate, studied music and writing on the East Coast and later taught at the New School in New York City and at New York University.

His fiction, essays and interviews have been published by The New Yorker, The Atlantic and numerous others, plus he is the editor of "Studio A: The Bob Dylan Reader."

Last year his book, "In Search of the Movement: The Struggle for Civil Rights Then and Now," was published by City Lights Books. Like the film, it addresses the black freedom struggle from the 1960s to the present.

"Two Trains Runnin'" is a feature-length documentary that weaves together two threads — one familiar, the other intriguing.

It's well known that in June of 1964 hundreds of college students traveled to Mississippi to teach in freedom schools and work on voter registration. It was a tense, difficult time, with the Ku Klux Klan and police in many towns violently turning them away.

That same June, two groups of young men — musicians, college students and record collectors — headed to Mississippi on their own errand.

They wanted to find two old blues singers and coax them out of retirement. Son House and Skip James had recorded some revolutionary blues music in the 1930s but had faded into obscurity.

Inevitably, authorities mistook the young men looking for the old bluesmen for civil rights activists.

On June 21, 1964, the two campaigns collided in a memorable and tragic fashion, according to the film's website. On that day the two bluesmen were located and three civil rights activists disappeared; the students were killed by the Ku Klux Klan.

Director Pollard, an acclaimed filmmaker and multiple Emmy Award winner, blends interviews with survivors, eyewitnesses, scholars and musicians with archival material, animation and the thoughts of critics, journalists and musicians.

The story is narrated by Common, an actor and musician with multiple Grammy Awards. The featured musician is Gary Clark Jr., a bluesman and Grammy winner.

Reviews have been highly complimentary. The New York Times commented, "The juxtaposition of music and politics — the retelling of a familiar story from the civil rights era in a slightly new key — sheds light on both the music and the movement."

The Times called the movie "the convergence of idealism, brutality and artistic genius," and pointed to a unifying theme of recognition of both black citizenship and an African-American musical form.

Some who wrote about the film have drawn a parallel with the current Black Lives Matter movement and the broader question of race relations and civil rights today.

Sponsors plan more than one screening of the film. It will be shown for Tower View Alternative School students, who will discuss the nature of civil rights as well as the creative process behind making a documentary film.

"Two Trains Runnin'" also will be shown 7 p.m., March 16, at the Sheldon Theatre as part of the Flyway Film Festival Minema Series, including a question-answer with Pollard and Hedin.

Tickets are $10. For more information, go www.sheldontheatre.org.

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