Pop Rocks: Filmmakers keep Tuskegee history alive

I love it when art proves to have a half-life.


It has been more than seven years since I had the great pleasure to write about a screening of In Their Own Words: The Tuskegee Airmen, a documentary by the Augusta-based production company Bryton Entertainment.

The film, which featured personal interviews with many of the surviving members of the famed all-black World War II Army Air Corps Unit. For me, the story climaxed with a screening of the film at the Imperial Theatre.

A few years later, the film enjoyed some modest success on home video and I believe has been screened occasionally in the years since. That’s typical for a documentary. It is their circle of life.

Except when it isn’t.

You see, despite having been completed, screened, released and shared over the years, In Their Own Words is about to have another moment – a somewhat significant moment – in the spotlight.

On Tuesday, March 29, Fathom Entertainment, a company that specializes in putting one-off broadcasts and screenings in movie theaters, will commemorate the 75th anniversary of the Tuskegee Airmen with showings of the film on 192 screens in 48 states – including Augusta Exchange 20. (Get tickets through fathomevents.com.)

The event will also feature a panel discussion with former Tuskegee Airman Lt. Col. George Hardy, the former Administrator of NASA Col. Fred Gregory and filmmakers Bryan Williams and Denton Adkinson taped at the National Air Force Museum.

It should be noted that while certainly very polished, In Their Own Words is not the most sophisticated of films. So why, after so many years, the renewed interest?

I have a theory.

I think it is because it is not the most sophisticated of films.

What I admired in 2009 and continue to admire today about In Their Own Words is the filmmakers’ understanding that engaging does not mean complicated. There are few tricks or gimmicks in this movie. Budget might have had something to do with that, but I think it is also because the strength of this story is not in visual storytelling, but hearing the stories of this celebrated unit from the men who lived it. It’s powerful, compelling and the audience is left feeling privileged – privileged to have heard true first-person history while it is still possible.

For me, In Their Own Words is a beautiful little reminder of how art functions, why we create and why many artists feel compelled to put their work – be it a painting, a piece of music or, as the case may be, a documentary film – out into the universe. They hope it will affect people. They hope it might color their world. Because when it does, when they are successful, art has no sell-by date. In Their Own words is proof positive of that.


Fathom Events and Bryton Entertainment bring In Their Own Words: The Tuskegee Airmen – The 75 Anniversary to cinemas nationwide for a one-night event on Tuesday, March 29. See it at 7 p.m. at Regal Augusta Exchange 20, 1144 Agerton Lane. For tickets, visit fathomevents.com.

A Night With the Airmen: A 75th Anniversary Celebration Dinner will be held at 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 28, at The Partridge Inn, 2110 Walton Way. Tickets are $100. Call (803) 341-9435.