THIRTEEN’s American Masters reveals demanding creative process behind celebrated director/choreographer Bill T. Jones’s ambitious dance-theater work for Lincoln bicentennial
Bill T. Jones: A Good Man premieres Friday, November 11 on PBS as part of the first PBS Arts Fall Festival
Watch a preview and connect with other cultural icons at pbs.org/americanmasters.
American Masters continues its 25th anniversary season with Bill T. Jones: A Good Man, premiering nationally Friday, November 11 at 9 p.m. (ET/PT) on PBS (check local listings). The 90-minute film chronicles the intense creative journey of Bill T. Jones – a 2010 Kennedy Center Honors recipient and two-time Tony® Award winner for Best Choreography – as he tackles the most ambitious work of his career and leads the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company in the creation of Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray, an original dance-theater piece in honor of Abraham Lincoln’s bicentennial commissioned by Ravinia Festival. Co-directors Bob Hercules of Media Process Group and Gordon Quinn of Kartemquin Films provide a window into the creative process and the creative crisis of one of our nation’s most enduring, provocative artists as he explores what it means to be a good man, to be a free man, to be a citizen. American Masters Bill T. Jones: A Good Man is part of the first PBS Arts Fall Festival, a multi-platform event anchored by nine films that highlight artists and performances from around the country.
“Fondly… is one of the most challenging projects I have ever undertaken,” said Jones. “A Good Man is an honest and unflinching portrait of that process.”
Through two tumultuous years, witness raw moments of frustration as Jones struggles to communicate his vision to his dancers and collaborators, as well as moments of great exhilaration when movement transcends the limitation of words. Jones and his company come face-to-face with America’s unresolved contradictions about race, equality and the legacy of our 16th President. Initially an indictment of “The Great Emancipator,” the work evolves into a triumph of hope for our struggling democracy, with Jones revealing that Lincoln was “the only white man I was allowed to love unconditionally.”
“Abraham Lincoln and Bill T. Jones make total sense to me. The courage and convictions of both men are a testament to the timeless endurance of art and action,” says Susan Lacy, series creator and executive producer of American Masters, a seven-time winner of the Emmy® Award for Outstanding Primetime Non-Fiction Series. The series is a production of THIRTEEN for WNET New York Public Media. WNET is the parent company of THIRTEEN and WLIW21, New York’s public television stations. For nearly 50 years, WNET has been producing and broadcasting national and local documentary and other programs to the New York community.
“I had always wanted to make a film that follows the creation of art from the very beginning all the way to the end,” says Bob Hercules. “Bill T Jones: A Good Man gave us that chance since we were wisely brought in by Ravinia at the very start of Bill’s research phase. Luckily, we had the resources and determination to keep filming through the whole process up to the premiere of the piece two years later. The result is an unvarnished look at how art gets created.”
“We tried to convey the immense amount of ideas and information that Bill T. Jones transfers into movement, music and speech for a performance. As we watched Bill’s struggles in putting his feelings about Lincoln and the contradictions and complexities of American democracy into Fondly…, we found ourselves drawn into the same contradictions about our democracy and our hopes for the future of this country,” says Gordon Quinn.
Throughout the film Jones explains how his childhood, artistic journey, personal feelings about Lincoln, and current emotional and physical condition affect the piece’s direction and development. Bill T. Jones: A Good Man also features interviews with dancers, musicians, crew, and staff from the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, including Executive Director Jean Davidson, Associate Artistic Director Janet Wong, Producing Director Bob Bursey, and Creative Director/Set Designer Bjorn G. Amelan, as well as Welz Kauffman, CEO and president of Ravinia Festival. Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray premiered at Ravinia Festival in Highland Park, Illinois, on September 17, 2009. The film features performances from the Ravinia premiere and rehearsals at the New 42nd Street Studios in New York City, along with production, writing and research sessions, including an emotional viewing of Lincoln’s personal effects at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library. Archival performances include Still/Here (1994), Last Supper at Uncle Tom’s Cabin/The Promised Land (1990) and Jones’s collaborations with his late partner Arnie Zane in Valley Cottage (1980), Blauvelt Mountain (1980) and Monkey Run Road (1979).
To take American Masters beyond the television broadcast and further explore the themes, stories and personalities of masters past and present, the companion website (pbs.org/americanmasters) offers streaming video of select films, interviews, essays, photographs, outtakes, and other resources. As part of the PBS Arts Fall Festival, PBSArts.org will host an online interactive exhibit that explains the complex production process behind stage works like Fondly Do We Hope…Fervently Do We Pray, including lighting and set design.
Bill T. Jones: A Good Man is a co-production of A Good Man Film LLC, Kartemquin Films, Independent Television Service (ITVS), THIRTEEN’s American Masters for WNET, and Media Process Group, with the cooperation of the Ravinia Festival. Bob Hercules and Gordon Quinn are directors. Joanna Rudnick is producer. Keith Walker is directory of photography, David E. Simpson is editor and Rachel Pikelny is associate producer. Gordon Quinn is executive producer for Kartemquin Films and Sally Jo Fifer is executive producer for ITVS. Susan Lacy is the series creator and executive producer of American Masters.
American Masters is made possible by the support of the National Endowment for the Arts and by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Additional funding for American Masters is provided by Rosalind P. Walter, The Blanche & Irving Laurie Foundation, Rolf and Elizabeth Rosenthal, Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Jack Rudin, The André and Elizabeth Kertész Foundation, Michael & Helen Schaffer Foundation, and public television viewers. Funding for Bill T. Jones: A Good Man is provided by the Ravinia Fund for Artistic Initiatives, Dr. and Mrs. Jeffrey Leiden, Mrs. June Bild Pinsof and Mrs. Madeleine Pinsof Plonsker, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Sage Foundation. This PBS Arts Fall Festival presentation is in collaboration with PBS member station WTTW. Funding for the launch of PBS Arts has been provided by Anne Ray Charitable Trust, public television viewers and PBS.
About WNET New York Public Media
WNET is America’s flagship public media outlet, bringing quality arts, education and public affairs programming to over 5 million viewers each week. The parent company of public television stations THIRTEEN and WLIW21 and operator of NJTV, WNET produces such acclaimed PBS series as Great Performances, American Masters, Nature, Need to Know, Charlie Rose, Tavis Smiley and a range of documentaries, children’s programs, and local news and cultural offerings available on air and online. Pioneers in educational programming, WNET has created such groundbreaking series as Get the Math, Noah Comprende and Cyberchase and provides tools for educators that bring compelling content to life in the classroom and at home. WNET highlights the tri-state’s unique culture and diverse communities through SundayArts, Reel 13, NJ Today and the new online newsmagazine MetroFocus.
About Kartemquin Films
Founded in 1966 to produce documentaries that examine and critique society through the stories of real people, Kartemquin Films serves as a home for independent media makers who seek to create social change through film. This Chicago-based documentary powerhouse has produced over 40 documentaries, including Hoop Dreams, The New Americans, Prisoner of Her Past and Typeface, and won every major critical and journalistic prize, including an Emmy, a Peabody and an Oscar nomination. A revered resource within the film community on issues of fair use, ethics, story structure and civic discourse, Kartemquin is internationally recognized for crafting quality documentaries backed by effective audience engagement strategies, and for its innovative media arts community programs. Kartemquin is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization. www.kartemquin.com
About Media Process Group
Founded in 1985, Media Process Group (MPG) is one of Chicago’s most respected documentary production companies. Over the years MPG has produced many award-winning social issues documentaries, including Radical Disciple: The Story of Father Pfleger, Senator Obama Goes to Africa and The Democratic Promise: Saul Alinsky & His Legacy. MPG’s acclaimed 2006 documentary about Auschwitz survivor Eva Kor and her controversial campaign promoting reconciliation, Forgiving Dr. Mengele, won the Special Jury Prize at the 2006 Slamdance Film Festival. The New York Times said about the film, “ . . . it’s impossible not to be moved by her fierce capacity for life.” MPG is releasing a new documentary this fall entitled The Joffrey Ballet: Mavericks of American Dance” (narrated by Mandy Patinkin). For more info: www.mediaprocess.com
About PBS Arts Fall Festival
As part of its commitment to increase every American’s access to and participation in the arts, PBS kicks off the multi-platform PBS Arts Fall Festival October 14th. Anchored by Friday night broadcasts, the Fall Festival features artists and performances from nine communities across the country and celebrity hosts from each locale. With full-length performances; local mini-documentaries of arts scenes around the country; backstage access through interviews; artist and performer profiles; online immersive exhibits; and classroom resources, the PBS Arts Fall Festival entertains and inspires consumers by offering a front-row seat to the creativity, culture, history and scope of the arts. Funding for the launch of PBS Arts Fall Festival has been provided by Anne Ray Charitable Trust, public television viewers and PBS.