Acclaimed social activists and filmmakers Lucy Massie Phenix (Winter Soldier) and Veronica Selver (Word Is Out) present You Got to Move, a 1985 documentary that follows people from communities in the Southern United States in their various processes of becoming involved in social change. The film’s centerpiece is the Highlander Folk School, an 80-year-old center for education and social action that was somehow involved in each of the lives chronicled.
In 1980, Lucy Massie Phenix was living in Berkeley and in the final months of editing the now-classic documentary The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter. At the time, she was attending a course on political activism taught by a Professor John Hurst in which Myles Horton, founder of the Highlander Folk School, gave a series of guest lectures about Highlander and organizing grassroots social change. At this time, President Carter had just signed the First Strike Directive authorizing preemptive nuclear strike and after attending a weekend conference on Medical Consequences of Nuclear Weapons and Nuclear War. Phenix was almost ready to give up film and involve herself fulltime in activism. But after being struck with a sense of powerlessness, she had a realization: “I then understood that what Myles Horton was talking about, the idea of helping people realize and act on their own power to effect social change, was what I needed to make a film about.”
The Highlander Research and Education Center, established in 1932 as the Highlander Folk School, serves to encourage those who struggle for justice by teaching them to become leaders of social movements. It educated some of the most monumental leaders of the Civil Rights Movement, leaders of change for labor laws, and citizens who fought to protect their communities against environmental destruction. Though outlawed in 1961 by the Tennessee Supreme Court for being accused of Communist behavior, the school reopened in Knoxville, Tennessee under the name it carries today. Today, the group continues to educate, inspire, and encourage community leaders in current fights for justice.
You Got to Move follows the fights of several Highlander-educated citizens who sought to end injustice in their own communities. The film captures the unwavering determination of each quietly heroic citizen, as well as moving shots of several peaceful, yet somber demonstrations and beautiful scenes of the Tennessee countryside. The rural, remote locations in which the movie takes place, as well as the total immersion of the filmmakers’ lives into the community in which they were filming, allowed for a slower filming process which took years longer than expected. The end product, though, is a collection of stories of people who dreamed of change and grasped it themselves.
Moving, honest, and inspirational, You Got to Move was a Blue Ribbon Winner at the 1986 American Film Festival as well as a winner at the 1986 National Educational Film Festival. The DVD release of You Got to Move commemorates the 80th anniversary of Highlander, as well as the 50th anniversary of the Albany Movement, a student-led protest which was monumental in the history of American civil rights activism. The DVD was created using a stunning high-def scan from the director’s original internegative and includes several bonus features.