Independent filmmaker and photographer George Tillman Jr. steps into the footlights next Wednesday (June 19th) for the first screening of "From Memphis To Philadelphia" – his documentary about the Million Woman March.
For Tillman, it will be the culmination of a 16-year journey.
With the support of several community-minded businesses, the final version of the documentary, narrated by Lestine Bell, will be shown at Studio On The Square at 7 p.m.
The screening will be followed by a panel discussion featuring Dr. Judith Thomas, Lincoln University (Philadelphia), Heritage Tours co-owner Joan Nelson, and others. Entertainment personality Myron Mays will serve as host and moderator.
"I was led to this (project) by Joan Nelson, and inspired and backed by my parents to see it to completion," said Tillman.
"In 1997, Joan sought me (out) and invited me to ride on the bus with them to document their journey to attend the Million Woman March in Philadelphia. On the return trip, the documentary started forming in my mind, but it really germinated the next year when I met Emmitt Till's mother, Mrs. Mamie Till-Mobley, and saw the movie 'Amistad,' said Tillman.
"That drove it home for me. I immediately started cutting the promo for a documentary about the march. The story had to be told."
Cynthia Marzette is co-writer and producer. Tillman credits her for giving the project the proper focus to drive it to completion.
The Million Woman March was originated by Phile Chionesu, a grassroots activist, human rights advocate and Black Nationalist/Freedom Fighter. The march drew an estimated 2 million plus attendees and was accredited as the largest gathering of women in recent history. It was the first event of its type to fully harness the people gathering the strength of the Internet.
"From Memphis to Philadelphia" centers its story on a panel of march originators – Asia Coney, national co-chair, and Planning Committee members Zola Aminata and Paula Peoples presented by Lincoln University, October 19, 2012.
"It opens up with a powerful interview with Mrs. Mobley," Tillman said, "and comes forward all the way to an in-depth prospective by National Civil Rights Museum President Mrs. Beverly Robertson. I've tried to put life on the screen that shows the mind, power and strength of African-American women."
WLOK AM 1340 radio, where Tillman hosts the Operation Push hour on Sunday nights, is serving as lead sponsor for the event.
"I've been wanting to make films since I was a child watching Elvis Presley," Tillman said. "Knowing he was from Memphis made me want to do it. Those first seeds grew when I saw "WattStax" when I was in the 12th grade."
Still, the urge didn't really hit home until Tillman's sophomore year at Fisk University, when we learned Stax was closing.
"We were called into a group viewing, then instructed to write what we would do in the community. I was so inspired by the Bar-Kays doing their song "Son of Shaft," I wrote that I would like to make a movie from the song and go on to be the president of Stax Records."
Years later, Tillman actually wrote a screenplay and pursued it with their cooperation. He eventually met Gordon Parks, the creator of "Shaft," and "we became good friends through the years. The project never came to light but it was a major learning point, as was "The Godfather."
After seeing Spike Lee break through, Tillman said that "let me know that the market was ready for black people to make movies."
Tillman's big project didn't make it to celluloid, but he never stopped pushing.
Advance admission tickets for "From Memphis To Philadelphia" are $10 and can be purchased at Talk of the Town Salon, 302 South Main and at Greg's Men's Stores on Riverdale and in Whitehaven.
(George Tillman Jr. can be contacted at 901-907-4412, or by email at tillman1357 @yahoo.com.)