The recent advanced screening “premiere” at the Cape Cod Cinema was a stunning success, the result of many things coming together. Not only was it a fabulous experience to show the film in the great Cape Cinema with Eric Hart at the helm of this extraordinary community resource, but they also had a nice party afterward at the Dennis Inn in Dennis, MA. .
A few days ago, Cape Cod Times columnist Sean Gonsalves stopped by to interview Rowland and Chris Szwedeo who made “Eye on the Sixties” which I’m happy to share here.
By Sean Gonsalves
January 20, 2013
End credits roll down the screen. A capacity crowd at the Cape Cinema in Dennis last Sunday stands and applauds for a minute-and-a-half.
They’d just seen “Eye on the Sixties,” a 90-minute documentary based on the photos of Rowland Scherman, a photojournalist from Orleans who captured some of the most striking images ofthat era.
“To learn about this photographer and to see it through his eyes was inspirational. The ovation was well deserved and sincere,” said Kirk Vazal of Pocasset, solar power plant developer and screenwriter who attended the advance screening.
I’ve only seen segments of the documentary in the basement studio of Chris Szwedo, the man who made “Eye on the Sixties.” But from those clips and from chatting up Scherman himself, I have an inkling of why the long standing O.
Szwedo, a child of the ’60s himself, said the impetus for the independently produced two-year project was sweet serendipity.
“I happened upon (Scherman’s) photos at that mall at the intersection of Route 6A and Route 28 in Orleans. I saw John Lennon in the window. Inside, there were a couple of rows of these beautiful photographs (of) heroic and famous people. They looked like they came out of one eye and I wanted to know who did it,” the Eastham filmmaker said.
The photos Szwedo first saw were only a small fraction of the images Scherman’s camera captured over his long and distinguished career as a photojournalist.
He was the first photographer for the Peace Corps, LIFE magazine’s special assignment photographer, personal photographer of President Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 presidential campaign, LIFE’s special photographer for Sen. Robert Kennedy’s presidential campaign, and a Grammy Award winner for Bob Dylan’s 1967 Greatest Hits album cover.
Scherman was also the primary photographer for the United States Information Agency’s coverage of the March on Washington in which Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his famous “Dream” speech on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial.
Even with a resume that includes portraits of JFK, RFK, MLK, the first Beatles concert in America, a young Dylan, Janis Joplin, Woodstock, and tennis champ Arthur Ashe, Scherman told me it wasn’t obvious at the time that he was bearing witness to an array of culturally momentous people and events.
In retrospect, he realizes what happened in the ’60s set in motion a social paradigm still with us today, as we prepare to celebrate the legacy of a civil rights leader who, in many aspects, embodied the spirit of the age.
“The ’60s was an astonishing era on so many levels,” Scherman said. “It was the apex of extreme hope and extreme disappointment. The world was in flux.”
From the 1930s until the end of the ’60s, he said, photojournalism seemed the pre-eminent media, before TV became dominant. “I certainly bought into that mystique (of photojournalism) – exciting, romantic,” he said.
Then Watergate. Breathtaking technological advances. A turn toward info-tainment. The media landscape has shifted, drastically. And while the cameras have gotten more sophisticated with little computerized Ansel Adams inside the gadgets even amateurs now use, substance and quality seem more difficult to find, he said.
“There’s a war in Afghanistan but the lead story is Britney Spears’ new shorts?! What? There’s a war going on. Who cares about Britney’s new outfit?”
Szwedo picked up on the observation. “Yeah, and name one image that came out of the Gulf War that anyone can remember now? Maybe the oil fields on fire … But not one person do you see suffering. In Vietnam, there’s tons of people suffering. The little girl running down the road or the guy getting shot in the head,” Szwedo said.
“Once, we ran page after page after page of the 350 GIs killed during that one week,” Scherman said of his tenure at LIFE.
Yet, even with war, race riots and soul-sapping assassinations of major leaders, it wasn’t all turmoil and tragedy. There were triumphs, especially the music.
“Bobby Kennedy loved the Beatles. He was singing ‘Good Day Sunshine’ on the campaign trail,” Scherman recalled. “Gordon Parks was the coolest guy I’d ever seen … And Janis Joplin’s concerts were incomparable. No one ever sent shivers up my spine like she did.”
Much has been written about the ’60s. Still, Szwedo felt compelled to link the faded memories of yesterday with the dominant visual media of today, using Scherman’s photojournalism as the bridge.
Szwedo compares making “Eye on the Sixties,” which involved revisiting the locations where Scherman shot his photographs, to climbing a mountain. Getting to the top is only half the journey.
Now, it’s a question of drumming up more interest, he said, adding that he’s negotiating with PBS to air the documentary later this year. He’s also thinking about submitting it to a few film festivals and getting it into theaters across the country.
Before I left Szwedo’s house, he told me about a talk he gave in California recently where he showed the part of the documentary covering the March on Washington. A 28-year-old college-educated audience member asked: “‘Hey, who’s that dignified looking guy with the white hair in the audience?’ ‘That’s Jackie Robinson,’ I said. He didn’t know … That’s why I made the film.”