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Interview: Tonya Lewis Lee, Kenny Leon, Nikki Silver Talk 'The Watsons Go to Birmingham'

Interviews
by Masha Dowell
July 29, 2013 7:31 PM
2 Comments
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THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM ROUNDTABLE

THE WATSONS GO TO BIRMINGHAM ROUNDTABLE WITH PRODUCERS TONYA LEWIS LEE, NIKKI SILVER, & DIRECTOR KENNY LEON

In September, the Hallmark Channel will present the original movie, “The Watsons Go to Birmingham”.

Tambay has discussed the film on several occasions. His latest post took place in April http://blogs.indiewire.com/shadowandact/anika-noni-rose-david-alan-grier-headline-the-watsons-go-to-birmingham-adaptation.

On Wednesday, in Beverly Hills, I had the opportunity to attend a roundtable conference with producers Tonya Lewis Lee and Nikki Silver, and director Kenny Leon, during which attending press were allowed to ask them a few questions about the upcoming film.

As is the nature of these roundtables, time and number of questions asked by press are limited, hence the short length.

The Q&A session can be summed up in five words, “We must support this film.”

Shadow and Act: What attracted you to this specific project?

Tonya Lewis Lee: Nikki and I worked together on a miniseries called, “Miracle Boys” for Nickelodeon. After we ended that project, Nikki asked me to join her on this project. I read the book with my children and we enjoyed it, and I loved the idea. It was a great opportunity.

Nikki Silver: It was exciting to get Tonya involved in the project. I knew that we’d find a way to get this project done. Tonya and I always joke that we’ve dated for many years and with this project we finally decided to get married as producing partners and started ToniK productions.

Shadow and Act: Can you tell us about your selection of Kenny as the director?

NS: (laughing) it’s his attractiveness! I’ve always been a fan of his career. We’d gone to the premiere of Steel Magnolia’s together. And in the back of our minds it was percolating that Kenny was the guy for the part.

TLL: Actually, Chris Rock mentioned your name (talking to Kenny) years ago to direct the film.

Shadow and Act: Kenny, can you tell us about your initial thoughts when you were approached to direct the film?

Kenny Leon: It’s a film about a loving African-American family; I don’t think we can ever get enough of that. Initially, I did not even focus on the writing of the film; I really focused on the passion behind the film.

Shadow and Act: Can you talk to us a little about the production side of the project?

KL: We shot the entire project in Atlanta.  We made it all look like Birmingham and Flint, Michigan.

TLL: Kenny brought in an amazing production designer David Chapman. He out did himself to look like Flint and Birmingham.

KL: We shot it in 19 days. We had a casting call in LA and we saw our leads on the first day. We held casting in Atlanta and NYC as well.

Shadow and Act: Can you tell us about your partnership with the Hallmark Channel?

NS: Walden Media has been a great media and Michael Flaherty has been great to work with.  Walden and Michael got into a relationship with the Hallmark Channel and created a Friday night viewing project. We loved the projects concept.

Shadow and Act: The 16th Street Baptist Church bombings are actually featured in the film. And just like 1963, situations like the recent Trayvon Martin death; has brought civil rights to the world’s forefront. What are your thoughts on the current political climate?

TL: This year marks the 50th year of the march on Washington, and The 16th Street Baptist Church bombings. We have come a long way; however, along the way we have made some steps forward, and some steps back. What I really like about the Watsons is that the young people in the story use their voices for change. Kenny was just telling me about a group that was galvanizing and making a difference.

KL: The group is called the Dream Defenders --- they took over the Florida state capital until the governor revisited the stand your ground law. The governor talked to them one day, but he thought they were going to leave, but they stayed.

Shadow and Act: Can you tell us about any future spin off plans for the film?

NS: We will have a national theatrical release of the film.

No dates given for the theatrical release, but Hallmark Channel will World Premiere on Friday, September 20 (8pm ET/PT, 7C).

The film is an adaptation of the historical fiction novel of the same name by Christopher Paul Curtis.

The film's cast includes: Anika Noni Rose, David Alan Grier, Skai Jackson, LaTanya Richardson, Wood Harris, Bryce Jenkins, Pauletta Washington and Harrison Knight.

The Watsons Go To Birmingham centers on an African American family living in the town of Flint, Michigan, who visit their grandmother's home in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, a turbulent time during the civil rights movement.


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2 Comments

  • Edwina@WINONA, INC. | August 5, 2013 6:00 PMReply

    I like everything about it but the WalMart connection. Factchecker, it's rare that a husband and wife can work together on something they both feel so passionate about and survive. And we all know Spike. I'd rather they work with others and stay married.

  • FactChecker | July 29, 2013 8:47 PMReply

    I wonder why she didn't ask Spike to direct her movie.

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