The making of 'Maynard'
The children of Atlanta's history-making mayor hope to bring father's story to the big screen in 2016
Few people have shaped Atlanta's past as much as Maynard Jackson. He was the city's first African-American mayor, serving from 1974 to 1982 and 1990 to 1994. But his influence spans far beyond that milestone: He's credited with sparking the construction and vision behind the world's busiest airport, helping to bring MARTA to the city, and paving the way for one of the nation's earliest affirmative action programs.
Writers have chronicled Jackson's life over the years, but no filmmakers have captured the politician's legacy for the big screen. With films highlighting the work of civil rights icon Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and former mayor and U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young, Maynard Jackson's children decided to create a theatrical documentary about their late father's story.
The origins of the proposed documentary, simply called Maynard, formed last summer out of a conversation between the former mayor's son, Maynard Jackson III, and his wife, Wendy Eley Jackson, a film and TV industry veteran. The couple, along with Jackson's daughters Brooke Jackson Edmond and Elizabeth Jackson Hodges, plus Jackson Hodges' husband, Howie, stepped out front to become the documentary's executive directors.
Maynard, which the Jackson family estimates will cost $1.3 million, will focus on a broader period of their father's life following the Civil Rights Movement. The film will be based on a series of forthcoming interviews with key people from Maynard Jackson's past as well as archival footage.
Though the script is still in the works, Jackson Edmond says the film will look at both her father's political accomplishments and their lasting impact. But she says the film will delve into lesser-known moments outside the public spotlight such as conversations taking place over blueberry muffins at his home with people from former speech writer Michael Lomax to Martin Luther King Sr.
"If you could imagine Maynard and his persona in public, he was just as large a figure in my life," says Jackson Edmond, who even recalls her father testing political strategies and practicing speeches in their home when she was 9 years old. "There were people who were playing major roles. It wasn't just Maynard. It was everyone around him when they were young."
Rather than sell Maynard Jackson's story rights, Eley Jackson says the family will be closely involved in the documentary to ensure it sees the light of day. So they started a new production company, Auburn Avenue Films, that's teamed up with writer Sheila Curran Bernard (Slavery by Another Name), director/editor Samuel D. Pollard (25th Hour), and producer Winsome Sinclair (Amistad, Precious, 2 Fast 2 Furious) for the making of the film.
"We've built a homegrown, organic team with those that Hollywood loves and respects at the forefront," Eley Jackson says. "We wanted a project that could be Oscar-worthy."
Jackson III says the family wanted to work with those film professionals to help provide Maynard with "international reach" that travels well beyond Atlanta's political circles. Regarding Pollard, Jackson III felt that he was the right director because he lived through the same period as Maynard Jackson's time in office — a necessary part of capturing the essence of his place in history.
"When I was little boy, of course I wasn't able to grasp the political aspects of the whole thing," Jackson III says. "What I picked up on was that my dad represented a rallying cry. To me, he was a superhero. But he was everyone else's superhero, too. He was that heroic figure. Maynard was the movement."
Auburn Avenue Films has finished Maynard's development and recently entered pre-production. They'll now finalize some contracts, map out the film's 20-day shooting schedule, and finalize the story arc.
The documentary has raised more than $14,000 of its $800,000 crowdfunding goal for a campaign that ends on May 23. The production team will need to raise an additional $500,000 to fund the movie's budget, Eley Jackson says. Maynard's executive producers have selected a steering committee — which includes former staffers Angelo Fuster and Aaron Turpeau, his first wife, Bunnie Jackson-Ransom, and one-time confidant Rev. Gerald Durley — to help guide the film toward its 2016 release date.
"We are reminding people of the movement, why it was relevant then, and why it's still relevant now," Eley Jackson says of the film's importance.
By the time Maynard allows viewers to reflect on Atlanta's past, the mayoral race to shape the city's future will be well underway. How would the former mayor feel about the city today? His children say he'd be thrilled about the city's infrastructure bond's passage and voting rights strides, disappointed at the state of minority contracting, and upset about Atlanta Public Schools' cheating trial.
"He'd be proud of some of the advances we've made," Jackson III says. "My dad was very critical and sets a high standard. He'd pull out the microscope and see where we're still lagging behind."