#344) Time and Dreams (1976)
OR “Black and White in Greene”
Directed by Mort Jordan
Class of 2017
The Plot: By the early ‘70s, Greene County, Alabama is among the first to have a predominantly African-American elected school board and city council. Temple University film student Mort Jordan focuses on Greene County’s citizens in this time of social change in “Time and Dreams”. In an unusual move, all of the interviewees are white. Some dismiss slavery and Reconstruction era racism as “the way it was”, others fully embrace the county’s new direction, and still others are fearful that this change will result with the white population being treated unfairly by African-Americans in power. Aided by Jordan’s narration, “Time and Dreams” is an examination of a piece of America on the verge of permanent change, as well as those who use time and dreams to hide from the reality of the present.
Why It Matters: The NFR calls the film “a unique and personal elegiac approach to the civil rights movement.”
But Does It Really?: The nice thing about the Registry is that it can still surprise me with a movie that comes seemingly out of nowhere. “Time and Dreams”/Mort Jordan was not on my radar (or anyone’s) before its induction to the Registry in 2017. I went into this screening knowing nothing about the film or its content, but an hour later I found myself surprisingly moved by what I had seen. “Time and Dreams” can be a bit heavy-handed in its presentation, and having an all-white panel gives the film a certain lopsidedness, but ultimately I was captivated by the film’s open look at the pitfalls of tradition and the fear of uncertainty. “Time and Dreams” may be one of the Registry’s more obscure titles, but it’s definitely worth checking out, and I’m glad the NFR found a place for it.
Everybody Gets One: Not a lot of information out there about Mort Jordan, other than he is a native Alabamian and was a student at Temple University, earning his MFA from the School of Theater, Film and Media Arts in 1975. “Time and Dreams” was part of his senior thesis project required to complete his degree. Once again, someone’s student film made it into the National Film Registry.
Wow, That’s Dated: Besides the obvious racial situation, be on the lookout for such ‘70s telltales as indoor smoking and sideburns that double as mutton chops.
Seriously, Oscars?: No Best Documentary nomination, but “Time and Dreams” was a finalist for a Student Academy Award. The Documentary winner that year was something called “What the Notes Say”, but Mort Jordan was the very first Student Oscar winner for Documentary with 1973’s “You See, I’ve Had a Life”, about a 13-year-old boy’s battle with leukemia. Jeez, Mort really doesn’t go for feel-good subject matter, does he?
- The interviews in “Time and Dreams” are a culmination of a year that Mort Jordan spent in Greene County, getting to know a variety of citizens in the process. Mort’s overall finding was that despite the racial tension in Greene County, “when it got down to the one-on-one relationships, things were fine.”
- The first minute or so consists of a ticking clock. They are definitely hitting the ground running with the “Time” part of the title.
- Uh-oh, these are some thick Alabamian accents. I may need subtitles.
- “For years, rivers meant isolation.” I have never truly considered the role geography has played in dividing cultures (though I guess mountains are the most obvious ones).
- So here’s the thing: I get the point Jordan is trying to make by only interviewing white citizens, but it definitely narrows this complex issue’s perspective. The interviews with these specific people can only go so long before “white people were victims too” gets brought up. And no matter how sincere or well thought out that viewpoint is, it will always pale in comparison to our treatment of African-Americans because, ya know, slavery.
- The section devoted to the rise of private schools in Alabama following desegregation intrigued me. Turns out most of the white population wouldn’t even entertain the idea of sending their kids to the same school as African-American kids, for fear they wouldn’t get the best education. So they built private schools and sent their kids there. Even the most defensive of the interviewees can’t successfully spin this one.
- Kids mugging for a documentary camera will never not be endearing. And they’re all so carefree, probably not even aware of the documentary’s subject matter. I’m just going to leave “You’ve Got to Be Carefully Taught” riiiiiight here.
- There are a lot of observations made by the interviewees that I found quite profound. Perhaps the one that most resonated with me was peoples’ desire to hold on to the solid views of the past rather than risk the abstract views of the future. Though I do wonder how long before each interviewee started spouting such pearls of wisdom. Surely it took a few warm-up questions to get to these gems.
- And one more “that’s racist towards white people” argument for the road. Again, he’s not wrong, but you’re really missing the point.
- A final reminder that this movie – deemed historically significant in the same class as “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” and “Titanic” – was a student film made to fulfill a class requirement.
- According to Mort Jordan, “Time and Dreams” “went back into the vaults” after its initial screenings. The film languished in obscurity until it was selected for the National Film Registry in 2017. This selection came to be when the National Film Preservation Foundation launched a subcommittee to find student films for Registry consideration. Committee member and former Temple Professor Ben Levin contacted Leonard Guercio, head of the Temple Digital Cinema Lab. Guerico recommended “Time and Dreams” for its “straightforward honesty”, and Levin et al advocated the film to the rest of the committee. Mort Jordan was “absolutely floored” upon learning his film had not only been resurrected, but would be preserved by the Library of Congress.
- Also worth noting: Greene County’s current population is roughly 80% African-American.