Spike Lee produced movie films scene at city grill

Published 7:29 pm Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Greenville’s historic Alabama Grill will be featured in Son of the South, a film about Brewton native Bob Zellner’s experiences during the civil rights movement in the early 60s.

The film is being directed by Spike Lee’s longtime editor Barry Alexander Brown. Lee, himself, is executive producer.

A production crew was in Greenville on Tuesday filming at the old café on Commerce St.

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“This scene that we’re doing today is a flashback scene,” said Brown. “A flashback to a lunch counter sit-in that he (Zellner) was not part of in 1960. This scene will inter cut with another scene, which is a non-violent workshop scene.”

Students from colleges across central Alabama – Troy University and Alabama State, for example – have been cast as extras for the scene, said Brown. The result will be an artistic example on film of the non-violent forms of protest utilized by civil rights activists during the turbulent era, he said.

The film crew used the Ritz Theatre next door as a staging area. A rack of vintage, 60s era clothing lined the Ritz’s auditorium. Extras waited in the sitting area drinking coffee and eating doughnuts, while make-up artists applied just the right shades and colors to the actors and actresses.

In the finished film Brown said the scene at the grill would occupy between 30 seconds and one minute of screen time. But crewmembers spent hours prepping the scene and the cast for those crucial few seconds.

“Audiences today are so sophisticated,” said Brown. “You have to be as accurate as possible.”

So how did the production end up in Greenville?

Brown, who grew up in Montgomery, contacted Tommy Fell, location coordinator at the Alabama Film Office, about needing a specific type of environment.

“I needed a lunch counter, which is very hard to find anywhere in America,” said Brown. “He (Fell) said ‘I think I got something for you.’ And when he sent the pictures I said that’s it.”

Brown and Lee have been friends since the famed director’s early years, when Brown edited Lee’s School Daze (1988). Brown then went on to edit other Lee projects, like Do the Right Thing (1989), Malcolm X (1992), He Got Game (1998), and Summer of Sam (1999), among others.

What makes this project unique, said Brown, is that it is a feature-length theatrical film focusing on the civil rights movement, specifically one individual’s experiences during the period. According to his biography, Zellner was the son of a Ku Klux Klan member who then went on to serve as the first white field secretary for the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC).

“In May of 1961 he graduated from Huntingdon College and from that spring through that summer he had this transformation,” said Brown, “from being completely on the outside of everything that was going on during the civil rights movement to being pulled into the very center of it.”

Zellner released his memoir, The Wrong Side of Murder Creek: A White Southerner in the Freedom Rights Movement, in 2008. It won the prestigious Lillian Smith Book Award.

Brown said the production crew would move to Montgomery on Wednesday and will be shooting the rest of the film in the summer of 2010.

The film will be released in 2011, he said.