My Debut as a Talking Head

In the spring of 2010 I was interviewed by Ken Wyatt for a documentary titled “Colored Confederates.”  He filmed for about two hours and we talked about a number of issues related to what I have suggested is one of the most misunderstood topics in Civil War history.  Well, it looks like the documentary is close to completion and today I came across the trailer.  There is a short snippet of me about half way through that comes after one of H.K. Edgerton’s impassioned speeches.  Wyatt also interviewed Nelson Winbush, Bruce Levine, Gerald Prokopowicz, Earl Ijames, and Ervin Jordan.  There is a Facebook page for the film that also includes a few shots of me and Ken.  I will keep you updated as we get closer to a release date.

You can also listen to a short interview with Ervin Jordan.

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8 comments… add one
  • Matt Gallman Aug 15, 2011 @ 17:28

    Based on the clip (and common sense) I assume that the filmmaker is going for a cleverly ironic commentary on “the human condition” sort of like Michael Moore interviewing the rabbit lady or big chunks of Tony Horwitz’s CONFEDERATES IN THE ATTIC. The subtext is that we viewers of the film (or readers of the book) are much more clever and educated than these interestingly bizarre people, but they are fun to watch and fascinating to think about.

    No serious observer of a documentary film is going to watch a guy in a Confederate uniform talking about how slavery was “just a slice” of the issue and think “boy, what a fascinating point!” They are going to think “boy, isn’t it fascinating that there are such crazy people in parts of our country?”

    Nobody is going to watch some guy claim that ACW battles were so bloody that there were essentially no non-combatants. They are going to think, “how fascinating that this crazy guy walks the earth. Pass the popcorn.”

    If the filmmaker was really asking an historical question, and using “talking heads” to answer it, then – if he were interested in “balance” – for every one of these fascinatingly odd people, he would line up 100 highly trained historians with PhDs in history and lots of books to all confirm that these people simply know nothing about the actual events of the 1860s. Those ratios would give the viewer a more accurate portrayal of what informed people think.

    But that would not be a very interesting and entertaining documentary.

    I am guessing that he is shooting for some combination of Michael Moore, Tony Horwitz, and Stephen Colbert. Or, perhaps a Redneck version of Spinal Tap?

    • Kevin Levin Aug 15, 2011 @ 17:36

      Hi Matt,

      Nice to hear from you again and I trust you are enjoying the last few weeks before your semester starts.

      I understood the risks of doing the interview for this documentary and decided to go ahead with it anyway. It is essentially the same risk that one takes when answering questions form a newspaper reporter or radio host. You just don’t know how it is going to be used. At this point it is too early for me to know where the documentary is going, but it is clearly not a scholarly investigation of the subject so your reference to Moore-Horowitz-Colbert may be accurate. Wyatt teaches documentary film at East Carolina University. In our discussions early on he seemed interested in both the sociological and historical aspects of the subject. Again, all I’ve seen is the trailer.

  • Ray O'Hara Aug 15, 2011 @ 6:39

    I watched the trailer and Kevin, all I can say is I hope it paid well because you’ll be sorry you ever got involved.

    • Kevin Levin Aug 15, 2011 @ 6:43

      Perhaps you can be more specific as to your concerns. I didn’t make a penny w/this project. I did it because I felt good about what the director had hoped to accomplish with this documentary. It’s not simply an attempt to get at the “truth” of the matter, but to show how various constituencies approach the subject and why it is such an emotionally charged issue. Of course, I don’t know what the final version will look like, but that is the risk that everyone takes when agreeing to get involved in these projects. The same is true when doing a newspaper or radio interview.

  • Corey Meyer Aug 14, 2011 @ 15:50

    Granted many of the battles were blood baths but I think Ijames over does it with claiming the batttles killed 10’s of thousands.

    • Ray O'Hara Aug 14, 2011 @ 16:31

      Corey to your average moron pundit casualty is synonymous with killed.
      I once watch Ken Burns interviews by a fawning PBS interviewer who remarked about the 51,000 killed at Gettysburg and of course Burns did NOT correct him.
      Burns probably doesn’t know the difference himself

      Recently on an a Military/History Channel show Battlefield detectives the point of the episode was about the casualties suffered in Picketts charge, The “detectives” disputed the losses reported because they went out looking for bodies on the field and finding few they assumed they numbers exagerated because everybody hit must surely have been killed.

  • Brooks D. Simpson Aug 13, 2011 @ 14:38

    Well, I had that news scheduled for Monday morning … 🙂

    • Kevin Levin Aug 13, 2011 @ 14:42

      I talked to the director last week over the phone and he didn’t even mention the online trailer. The pace of production took me a bit by surprise, but I am pleased to see that we are close to a release. I have to say that it was a bit nerve racking doing the interviews. It’s difficult to relax because you don’t want to sound like a complete idiot. Luckily, Ken did an excellent job at putting me at ease as much as possible with the pace of questions as well as offering opportunities to do re-takes.

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