Sam Pollard interview: ‘MLK/FBI’ director
Most documentaries will usually interview 20-25 people and then whittle it down to about 10-15 that are used in the final cut, but Sam Pollard went in a different direction with his latest, “MLK/FBI.” “. This we had the reverse philosophy. We said we don’t want a lot of people to talk about this story. We’re going to find a core group of people,” he said in our recent webchat (watch the exclusive video above). In addition to David Garrow, the author of the book the film is based on, Pollard wanted two of King’s closest confidants, two people specializing in the history of the FBI and two people who understood the inner workings of the bureau. It was the film’s screenwriter, Ben Hedin, who made the suggestion of James Comey, the former FBI director. “My first reaction was that Comey would probably say no. But, surprise, surprise; he said yes!”
“MLK/FBI” explores the disturbing history of how the FBI and it’s leader at the time, J. Edgar Hoover, conducted surveillance on Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as well as the harassment that they subjected him to. As King became well known as one of the central figures of the Civil Rights movement, the bureau believed that he was in league with communists and posed a serious threat to American democracy. This behavior from the bureau would continue until King’s assassination in April of 1968. Pollard is a previous Oscar nominee for Best Documentary Feature for the film, “4 Little Girls,” (shared with Spike Lee) in 1997.
While he didn’t win that Oscar in 1997, Pollard did go on to win three Emmys. Two of them were in 2007 for the HBO documentary, “When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts.” When remembering that night, Pollard flashed a huge smile and said, “Hey man, it was sweet! The idea that we got nominated for all those Emmys and we win for Best Editing and then me and Spike win for producing. It was an extremely nice moment.” The wins were also meaningful as Pollard’s working relationship with Lee went all the way back to 1990, when Lee asked if he would serve as the editor of “Mo’ Better Blues.” The two have since collaborated on over a dozen projects since then.
Pollard also reflected on the recent political victory of Sen. Raphael Warnock in Georgia, as Warnock leads Dr. King’s old congregation. “The fact that Raphael Warnock is the minister of Ebenezer Baptist Church is that sort of connection to Dr. King and what his church was all about.” It’s something that he still finds amazing considering the political history of a state like Georgia. “You got to tip your hat to the people in Georgia who were so active and pushing for people of color to come out and vote. That’s amazing that someone like Stacey Abrams and others went really really all out to make people come out to vote.”