Filmmakers with local ties win a Peabody award for ‘The Loving Story’

ajohnson@newsobserver.comApril 24, 2013 

It’s often difficult to express elation: Just ask Nancy Buirski, director and producer of “The Loving Story,” who recently learned the documentary won a George Foster Peabody Award.

“I was over the moon,” she says. “I am very honored. It’s tough to put into words.”

It’s no wonder, Buirski, founder and former director of the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, was taken aback.

Administered by the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia, the prestigious Peabody Awards honor excellence in all forms of media. Established in 1941, winners include CBS newsmen Charles Kuralt and Walter Cronkite, “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Seinfeld.” The 39 recipients for work done in 2012 include a public service announcement “Good Morning America” created for anchor Robin Roberts’ treatment for a rare blood disease, a local TV station’s expose of fraudulent tax-claim payouts and “Louie” the FX series starring comedian Louis C.K.

Buirski’s joy was shared with, among others, Elisabeth Haviland James, who edited and co-produced “The Loving Story.” She was home in Durham with her 4-month-old daughter, Marcelle, when an email arrived with the subject line: You’ve won a Peabody.

“It was a wonderful way to be greeted in the morning,” James says. “It’s a fitting tribute to a film that celebrates an incredible American story.”

That story is about Richard and Mildred Loving and their battle to be legally married; he was white, she was black. Ultimately, the Lovings’ case went to the U.S. Supreme Court, and their victory in 1967 ended bans on interracial marriages in 16 states, including North Carolina. Nash County native Susie Ruth Powell wrote the film’s script.

Buirski notes that recently the film has seen a resurgence of interest because of the Supreme Court arguments involving same-sex marriage. “The marriage equality argument has its roots in Loving v. Virginia,” she says.

James says she’s looking forward to attending the Peabody’s gala luncheon at New York’s luxe Waldorf-Astoria hotel on May 20. CBS Evening News anchor Scott Pelley is hosting, and among the other winners is the HBO hit “Girls.” James wants to meet star and writer Lena Dunham. “I think she’s a really remarkable storyteller.”

James is also savoring the completion of a film she directed, “In So Many Words,” about Raleigh-based clinical psychologist Lucy Daniels, which screened at the recent Full Frame festival.

Buirski, meanwhile, is well into her next film, “Tanaquil Le Clercq: Afternoon of a Faun,” about the legendary ballet dancer, who was muse and wife of George Balanchine. She is also looking forward to the commercial release of “The Loving Story,” which will be available on DVD May 28. (You can preorder it now on Amazon or at docurama.com).

For Buirski, who began telling the Lovings’ story in 2008, that the film still resonates isn’t surprising. Besides being foremost about love, it has other compelling threads. At a screening in March in Colombia, for instance, film-goers connected to the film’s exploration of class differences. “I think it’s a story that will live for quite a while. We’ve heard from people who are part of (mixed-race) families who feel like it’s their story.

“It discovers and reveals an important moment in history and puts it on the record,” she says.

Johnson Martin: 919-829-4751; twitter.com/amajomartin

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