Neshoba - A film by Micki Dickoff and Tony Pagano
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A Film by Micki Dickoff and Tony Pagano

History of the Project

I was 17 years old in 1964, a few years younger than James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner.  Like them, I wanted to be a part of Freedom Summer and help register black people to vote.  My father was adamant; he wouldn’t let me go.  He grew up in the Mississippi Delta, the only Jewish family in his town.  He knew discrimination and fear.  When those three kids went missing and their bodies discovered two months later, I was devastated.  How could murderers brag about killing three innocent, unarmed young men and never be held accountable?  This American tragedy helped shape my politics and my art.  When Ben Chaney called me 35 years later to discuss making a film about justice in this case, I jumped at the chance.  Ben was on a lifelong mission and I wanted to help.  His energy and commitment were palpable.

A few months later, I met the indomitable Carolyn Goodman and my life was never the same again.  She was amazing, still protesting injustice wherever she saw it, never losing hope her son’s case would be prosecuted, still making a difference.  For me, she was not only an inspiration, but also a hero.  Although the film stayed on the back burner for five more years, my relationship with Carolyn grew closer.  I had no idea what started for me in 1964 would culminate in a film 45 years later.

 As the 40th anniversary of the murders approached and the spotlight was again on the case, I knew I had to make the film.  By 2004, Carolyn Goodman was 88, Fannie Lee Chaney was in poor health, and only eight of the murderers were still alive.  When I learned about the Philadelphia Coalition, a group of black and white Mississippi citizens calling for justice for the first time in 40 years, I was moved by their passion to finally tell the truth. 

With only three months before the 40th Anniversary events, and little time to raise money or apply for grants, I pitched the idea to my lifelong friend and award-winning director of photography, Tony Pagano, and suggested we make the film together.  I asked him not to make a decision until he met Carolyn Goodman.  A month later Tony was on board!  He and I have known each other for 35 years, as a student in the first college class I ever taught, as a cherished friend, as DP on several of my films, and finally, as my partner on NESHOBA: The Price of Freedom.

When Tony and I started shooting in 2004, we had no idea Killen would get indicted 10 months later; that we would have unprecedented access to him for five months; that we would travel to Mississippi more than 20 times; that the film would take five years to finish; that Carolyn Goodman and Fannie Lee Chaney would testify at Killen’s trial; and, that a black man would be running for President when NESHOBA made its world premiere at the Boston Film Festival.

45 years ago James, Andy and Mickey, and hundreds of others, died so Barack Obama could be elected President.  Their legacy is our heritage.  We must never forget them or the “price of freedom.”  We hope our film reminds us how far we’ve come in race relations and how far we still need to go. 

NESHOBA: The Price of Freedom was funded in part through grants from the Andrew Goodman Foundation. The film could not have made without their unwavering generosity and belief in us.

–Micki Dickoff