Wonderfully American: Dawn Porter on John Lewis: Good Trouble | Interviews

John Lewis, as an activist, is only as effective as the laws that result from the activism. 

I think that he understands that, and I love seeing how he matured and grew and moved through his life to do different forms of activism. It’s not an accident that Nancy Pelosi calls him “the conscience of the Congress.” But while he is the conscience, we also included a section that shows how many bills he has written or co-authored or co-sponsored.

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One of the visual aspects of “Good Trouble” that I found interesting was the visual conceit of Mr. Lewis being surrounded by screens playing footage of the Civil Rights era and in his protests. It’s almost like he’s watching his life flash before his eyes. And I was wondering where that idea was born from.

That was exactly the idea. You are like acing this exam! The John Lewis movie exam. [laughs]  

So we were in Alabama, and every year he does what he calls a “pilgrimage” back to the Selma bridge, which also includes a visit to Bryan Stevenson’s Civil Rights museum in Alabama. And while we were there, he was watching a video installation about himself. And there was a teenager who was on a high school trip. Can you imagine going to the museum and seeing John Lewis right there next to you, watching? [laughs] 

And Mr. Lewis was watching, and he was shaking his head. He said, “Sometimes I can’t believe that was me.” Then he turns to this kid, and he starts telling a story about that day that I had never heard. 

Oftentimes, Mr. Lewis is asked about these iconic moments, and I wanted to see if I could get some more texture out of those moments. I said to my producer, “Can we recreate that? Could we put him in the middle of that kind of video art installation?” So we rented a theater in Washington, DC, the Arena Stage, and we constructed three large screens. Then we made several short archive films. No commentary, just archives about him. I sat him in the middle, and we had five cameras, and we just watched him to take it in and respond to it. Then I would ask him questions. From there, the idea cinematically came to me, that John Lewis should tell his own story.

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