Directed by Robert Drew, Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment is a documentary film about the Alabama school integration events of 1963 told in the span of two days as it involves President John F. Kennedy and attorney general Robert F. Kennedy on one side against Alabama’s then governor George Wallace. The film showcases a pivotal event in American history during a moment of crisis at the University of Alabama as it relates to Wallace’s refusal to integrate schools and what was going on in the White House. The result is a compelling look into a moment in American history shown from both sides by Robert Drew.
On June 11, 1963, two African-American students in Vivian Malone and James Hood both were given admission to enroll at the University of Alabama by a federal court judge yet Governor George Wallace refuses to comply with federal law leading a two-day showdown between the state and President John F. Kennedy and his brother in attorney general Robert F. Kennedy. Being the final state to integrate, Alabama is set to deal with this change but Wallace refuses believing that blacks and white should segregate for their own good. The film explore these two days where Malone and Hood are getting ready to enroll yet they have to deal with all of these issues as they’re aided by deputy attorney general Nicholas Katzenbach who goes to Tuscaloosa where the university is at.
Robert Drew, along with cinematographer Gregory Shuker as well as several camera operators including D.A. Pennebaker covers both what is happening at the home and office of Robert F. Kennedy, the Oval office, and what is happening in Alabama as he gets perspective from all sides. Notably as Drew showcases how Robert F. Kennedy and Wallace both start their day with the former surrounded by his kids at home while the latter is watching his young daughter play piano and chat with a few workers and play ball with a kid. Shooting on a cinema verite style that allows complete access to what is happening as well as this fly-on-the-wall perspective, Drew and his crew use hand-held cameras to showcase what is going on that climaxes with a showdown between Wallace and General Henry Graham as the latter represents the federal government and the national guard.
Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment is an incredible film from Robert Drew. Not only does it capture a moment in American history during the Civil Rights movement but also showcases what goes on when political forces try to figure out what to do to avoid violence as well as do something peaceful. Especially during a moment in time where change is hard to accomplish but also face with acceptance for a better future. In the end, Crisis: Behind a Presidential Commitment is a remarkable film from Robert Drew.
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