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Screening of ‘The March’ will commemorate 60th anniversary of March on Washington

A still from “The March” is shown. The 1964 documentary will be presented virtually by the UCLA Film & Television Archive on Thursday in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the March on Washington. (Courtesy of NARA)

“The March—60th Anniversary Screening”

Sept. 28

Virtual Event

By Victoria Munck

Sept. 26, 2023 2:17 p.m.

The March on Washington is being revisited through a cinematic lens 60 years later.

On Thursday, the UCLA Film & Television Archive will be hosting a virtual screening of “The March,” the 1964 documentary capturing the historic political demonstration at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. Directed by James Blue and restored by the National Archives and Records Administration, the film will be presented in commemoration of the march’s 60th anniversary. Mark Quigley, the archive’s John H. Mitchell Television Curator, said the event will allow viewers to reexamine the monumental march with a deeply personal, emotive element only achievable through film.

“James Blue, who taught at UCLA, was a highly accomplished filmmaker with not only a lot of integrity but a true artistic eye,” Quigley said. “This film captures the intimacy of the event itself, and, in a really complex and humanist way, it captures the spirits and the hopes of the people that were there. … It’s something that you really have to see to experience.”

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David Frank, a professor of rhetoric and political communication at the University of Oregon, said he has spent nearly five years studying “The March,” as he was swiftly drawn in by the radicalism of both its narrative and digital display. He has also used the documentary to help high school instructors teach students about the Civil Rights Movement, he said, as it provides an extensive account that transcends the march alone. He hopes attendees of the archive’s screening can similarly gain a new understanding by witnessing the values of discipline and dignity that the film effectively captures, he said.

Thursday’s event is also notable because painstaking effort was required for the documentary’s restoration process, said William Jones, a professor of history at the University of Minnesota. Jones, who wrote a book about the March on Washington, said he was surprised to learn that coordination issues between the film’s audio and video had to be resolved in order to bring some of its most crucial moments to fruition, including Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech. Because “The March” was produced by the United States Information Agency, it also provides a unique perspective on the nation’s stance on civil rights at the time, Jones added.

“I think there’s ways in which it (the documentary) itself is a historical artifact,” Jones said. “It’s important and interesting to think about the ways in which the federal government tried to use ‘The March’ to promote a positive image of the United States, even though it was a protest against the U.S. government. So, you can see elements of that in the film.”

The archive’s screening will be followed by a Q&A panel consisting of Archive Director May Hong HaDuong, Jones, Frank and George Stevens Jr., who produced the film. Quigley said he is looking forward to gaining insight from experts on the march and is excited to hear Stevens’ firsthand account of the event and its historical results.

The post-viewing panel is able to occur with featured experts from across the country because of the archive’s decision to host the event virtually, Quigley said. Moreover, Frank commends Archive Director HaDuong for embracing digital technology and allowing “The March” to educate a wider audience, he added. Quigley, whose primary role in the program is producing the virtual screening room, said he is honored the archive is able to considerably expand its reach for this significant anniversary event.

“The 60th anniversary of the March on Washington is a really important event to commemorate and remember,” Quigley said. “By offering it in our virtual screening room, we can reach an audience beyond Westwood, beyond Los Angeles. … We can offer it online and contextualize it with the excellent panel we have. It’s a way to reach as many people as possible.”

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“The March” can offer entirely new lessons for young viewers in the digital age, Frank said, which he hopes attendees of the screening will note. The documentary showcases how the march’s participants met in person to coordinate and eventually convey their dialogue, an element that he believes today’s social justice movements should implement more often, he added. In a similar vein, Jones said the issues at the center of the 1963 protest remain prevalent in modern society, so there are still many aspects to apply to current events.

Because the film’s director once taught at UCLA, Thursday’s screening also has a special connection to the campus community, Quigley said. Furthermore, many Hollywood actors in the 1960s raised money in support of the march to take a stance against racial inequality, Jones said, giving the demonstration a unique tie to the heart of LA. For these reasons and more, Jones said he hopes the archive’s event can find ways to resonate with all attendees and leave them with a modern understanding of a turning point in history.

“This film is an opportunity to have a broader historical conversation around some of the issues that are really pressing in our lives today,” Jones said. “Whether we’re students or older people, I hope people can use it and see it as a way of learning lessons and sparking conversations that can help us move forward.”

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