Mick Caouette Shines Spotlight On America's Hidden Heroes
By Jana Ritter
Mick Caouette is a master of true documentary filmmaking. Unlike those who bank in on the ready made market of celebrity biopics or subjects with sensationalistic appeal, Caouette digs the more difficult, untouched terrain for the stories still untold. He distinguishes them as "stories of quiet courage" and critics deem his films as must see monuments of American history, with a more humanistic appeal.
Caouette's most recent film, "Mr. Civil Rights: Thurgood Marshall and the NAACP", is the most in-depth look at one of the most important figures in the entire civil rights movement. The film combines the tragedy and triumph of Marshall's remarkable struggle through oppression and poverty to winning more Supreme Court hearings than any lawyer in US history, including the 1954 Brown v Board of Education decision to desegregate public schools.
With the film set for national PBS broadcast this October and its premiere screenings already generating significant response, we wanted to find out more from the director himself.
There are certainly a lot of people that set out to be filmmakers, but what led you down the more specific and less traveled path of a historical documentarian?
Actually I started out in a whole different direction, touring on the road with a band for 25 years. I was a professional bass player and I was very fortunate to have made a living doing something I love. But eventually I quit the band and went back to school. I was immediately inspired by one of my professors who introduced me to my next passion - documentary filmmaking.
She assigned us to one of the most untouched and controversial subjects of that time - interracial marriage. I was just fascinated by the whole process of finding these remarkable people who survived so much hardship and struggle. Having them tell their stories on camera, was like giving them a voice and venue to be heard. I was always very interested in studying history, so I went on to get my Masters in American History and was determined to combine my two passions and make a career of historical documentary filmmaking.
You got your first big career break with Court TV and then things pretty much happened from there?
Yes, I was extremely fortunate to meet a Producer who gave me the opportunity to Associate Produce two films for the Court TV series, "The Greatest Trials of All Time." That really helped open the doors to producing my first independent film, "The Heart of Bassett Place: W. Gertrude Brown and the Wheatley House" in 1999. Then, four years later I completed my second film, "Eugene J McCarthy: Muses and Mementos" and then my third film, "Hubert H. Humphrey: The Art of the Possible" which aired on PBS nationwide in October 2010.
It's really hard breaking in to any genre of filmmaking but with every film you make, it does seem to get a little easier to make the next.
PBS broadcast is considered the ultimate honor for documentary filmmakers, so it certainly says a lot to have another film set to air with them in October.
Yes I feel extremely honored that American Public Television and PBS have been so supportive of my work and I'm very grateful that Thurgood Marshall's story is getting the best possible venue to reach audiences. I have also had the support of Juan Williams, who authored a biography on Marshall and he's always pushed to get his story out because Marshall may have done more for the civil rights movement than Martin Luther King, yet very few Americans even know his name.
Isn't it a lot more difficult to make a documentary film about someone so unknown?
That's definitely the biggest challenge in making these types of films, especially when I really try to stay away from re-enactments. You really have to do a lot of digging when you don't give yourself that option and don't have much footage or photos of your subject in action.
But it also forces you to get to know the subject on a much more personal level and tell a much more compelling story beyond the historical facts. Thurgood Marshall has a fascinating story not only because of what he accomplished as the first African American Supreme Court Justice, but the tragic struggle he had to overcome as well.
This man grew up in poverty and oppression, and then risked his life every day he showed up to argue in the all white courtrooms. He constantly faced death threats and was even dragged off to the river to be lynched at one point.
What would you ultimately want your legacy to be as a filmmaker?
I feel my purpose is to inspire people with stories of quite courage, in a more personal way that brings these heroes to life and keeps them alive in our memories. Ideally, as a historical biographical documentary filmmaker, I want to inform like a dictionary and captivate like a novel.
Who's the next American hero we can look forward to meeting?
Frances Perkins. She was the first female appointed to the US Cabinet and like Marshall, she faced major obstacles both professionally as a woman and personally as a wife and mother. Her husband and daughter both suffered from severe bi-polar disorders, which wasn't even really recognized by the medical community at the time.
But like Marshall, she too prevailed and we can all thank her for the Social Security and 40 hour work week we continue to benefit from today.
To find out more about Mick Caouette and his entire film catalog, go to his official website: www.SouthHillFilms.com.
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