By Karen Middleton
Today, the documentary “Three Days at Foster,” researched, written, produced and directed by Athens native Keith Dunnavant, premieres at the Sidewalk Film Festival in Birmingham.
The documentary tells the story of the integration of the University of Alabama sports program in the years following then Gov. George Wallace’s infamous “stand in the schoolhouse door.”
Those not able to attend the premiere will have the opportunity to access the documentary starting Monday, through Vimeo On Demand, ShadowVision Productions announced Thursday.
The film about the pioneer athletes who shattered the color barrier at the University of Alabama will be available exclusively through the fast-growing Internet VOD service, for a limited time, starting Aug. 26 at a cost of $4.95.
Viewers may also access the film directly through ThreeDaysatFoster.com. This first sports documentary to be brought to market on Vimeo.com/ondemand, streams through Xbox, Apple TV, Roku and other devices.
“Internet VOD is the wave of the future, and we are pleased to bring ‘Three Days at Foster’ to the public in a cutting-edge way that allows maximum flexibility and quality,” said Dunnavant.
The action of “Three Days at Foster” doesn’t depict events that happen over a literal three days, but Dunnavant broke the documentary segments into three parts, each covering a different period in the civil rights struggle and how it affected college athletics. Dunnavant asked reviewers to hold off writing about the climactic “third day,” wanting to leave a pleasant surprise for viewers.
ESPN radio host Paul Finebaum calls the film “simply unforgettable.”
“Keith Dunnavant has taken one of the seminal moments in the civil rights movement and peeled off a new layer that is both haunting and gut-wrenching,” Finebaum said.
Fifty years after Wallace’s stand in the doorway of Foster Auditorium, Dunnavant, a long-time sports writer, says it was time for a retrospective and a look at how far race relations have progressed both in University of Alabama sports and society at large.
He says that in many ways those early black players at Alabama became standard bearers for integration in a state so enamored by sports.
Dunnavant tells the story along with first-person interviews with such figures as Danny Treadwell, who moved from his native Gadsden in the mid-1960s and enrolled at Butler High School, where he integrated the basketball team.
“He was the first black to play in the 1965-66 state tournament at Foster Auditorium just 33 months after Wallace’s stand in the door,” Dunnavant narrates.
“I set my mind on playing basketball and I didn’t hear anything — I didn’t see anything,” said a 60-something Treadwell.
In fact, the jeering and hollered racial slurs were deafening in Foster until the spectators witnessed Treadwell’s amazing shooting skills. Treadwell remained poised and focused through it all.
“If he had reacted to the abuse,” said former Huntsville Times sports reporter and editor John Pruitt, “he would have had a negative impact on race relations in high school, and even college athletics.”
Dock Rone was the first football walk-on at Alabama in spring 1966 and four more black athletes would follow in 1967. Neither legendary coach Paul “Bear” Bryant nor the UA football program actively began recruiting players until 1970, but Bryant is said to have been courteous and supportive to walk-ons.
Sugar Bowl 1967 Most Valuable Player Kenny Stabler was said by those first black players to have “gone out of his way to be supportive.”
Rone had to drop out in 1967 because of a death in the family, but he says on camera, “Even if I didn’t finish that dream, I scratched the itch.”
The documentary features several historic figures who have never appeared on camera, who tackle the mythology surrounding the widely misunderstood 1970 Southern Cal-Alabama football game; it is a story about personal struggle and triumph, and ultimately, about the power of sports to touch hearts, change minds and heal a state’s wounds.
In summer 2012, nearly 100 people across America and beyond participated in a Kickstarter campaign to provide part of the funding for “Three Days at Foster,” which completed principal photography last December.
The 81-minute film, released by ShadowVision Productions, features Rone, Andrew Pernell and Arthur Dunning, who walked on to the all-white Bama football team in 1967. Besides Treadwell, there is an interview of Wilbur Jackson, the first African-American signed to a football scholarship by the Crimson Tide; and Wendell Hudson, Alabama’s first black basketball player.
A long list of coaches, teammates, journalists and historians also appear in the film, including former UA head basketball coach C.M. Newton; former football players Gary Rutledge, Jerry Duncan and Scooter Dyess; Bama magazine editor Kirk McNair; and Tuscaloosa News columnist Robert Dewitt.