The Love Story of the Traverse City Film Festival 2011 is…? The Loving Story

The Loving Story is a love story.  A hit at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival, this historic documentary tells the story of Mildred and Richard Loving, a young couple from rural Caroline County, Virginia.

Married June 1958 in Washington, D.C., the Lovings were arrested at their Virginia home a month later.  Awakened in the middle of the night, they were hauled off and locked up in jail.  Their crime:  violating Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act.  Mildred was a black and Cherokee woman; Richard was a white man; and Virginia was one of the sixteen remaining states forbidding interracial marriages.


The Lovings were tried, convicted, and sentenced to twenty-five years in the state penitentiary.  Virginia offered them a deal:  move away and don’t come back. Mildred and Richard were then exiled from their home, friends and family.  They moved to Washington, D.C., a place they did not really want to live.  Feeling the injustice of their situation, Mildred wrote to Robert F. Kennedy, who sympathized with her situation and advised her to contact the A.C.L.U., which she did.  The upshot of Mildred reaching out for help turned their simple story into riveting history.


“They just wanted to be married and go home,” says the film’s producer and editor, Elisabeth Havilland James, in a phone call yesterday.  The Lovings’ simple wish to live back among family went on to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967.  The Lovings vs. Virginia was a landmark civil rights case for social justice and racial equality.  In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme ruled Virginia’s Racial Integrity Act of 1924 unconstitutional, and the Lovings moved back home, where they lived simple lives and raised their family, far away from media scrutiny.

Photograph by Grey Villet, 1965

Produced and directed by Nancy  Buirski, The Loving Story “takes an unconventional approach to a historic doc,” according to Buirski’s partner on the film, producer/editor James.  “Because there is no narrator.  We let the characters speak for themselves, so there’s ambiguity, which is nice.”


When asked the biggest surprise working on the film, James says, “It was the amount of material we were able to uncover and the unbelievable quality of the footage.  The camera work was beautiful – sixty minutes of black and white cinema verité footage.”   That incredible footage came from Hope Ryden, a filmmaker from the 1960s who followed the Lovings but never made her own documentary.  When director Buirski contacted her, Ryden looked for the lost footage.  She found it in her closet, where it had been for over forty years.


Another big surprise was the collection of photographs taken by well-known Life Magazine photographer Grey Villet.  When James first saw the photographs, she says she almost cried: “They are so intimate.  They allowed us to tell the love story in a way the film footage didn’t.”


Both Nancy Buirski and Elisabeth Havilland James will attend the festival.  For Buirski it will be her first time in this area.  For James, born and raised in Grand Rapids, it’ll be somewhat of a homecoming — a chance to show friends and family her work in her home state. 


Also, seeing the film will be James’s favorite teacher from Forest Hills Central High School, Ms. Ann Layton, who retired last year “Ms. Layton was an unconventional teacher (theatre and communications) who appreciated the misfits with cameras,” says James.  She credits Ms. Layton with encouraging “all of us to tell stories.”  Like The Loving Story.  You can bet Ms. Layton is going to be proud.


The Loving Story:  6PM THU July 28th at Milliken Auditorium and 12PM SAT July30th at Old Town Playhouse.  Both performances are SOLD OUT. for updates and added screenings.  





Left to right: Nancy Buirski, Elisabeth Havilland James


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