George Wallace: Settin' the Woods on Fire

Institute History

  • 2000 Sundance Film Festival


George Wallace certainly has a prominent place in the iconography of the twentieth century. The man who symbolized resistance to Civil Rights in the 1960s and ‘70s, who stood in the schoolhouse door; the governor who made himself infamous with his police riot in the march on Selma and his “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever” also became a personage of national importance as a third-party presidential candidate and a sympathetic figure after an assassination attempt left him paralyzed.

As this fascinating and nearly epic portrait reveals, the legacy of George Wallace extends well beyond popular parameters. Filmmakers Daniel McCabe and Paul Stekler perform a valuable service in placing Wallace’s controversial persona into historical context and in so doing, clarify the Reagan revolution and its ideological successors. But neither is this any sort of hagiography. Though it presents a complex analysis of Wallace’s roots, including his childhood poverty and his initial liberalism, and expands and comments on his political career and its import, Wallace never becomes a simplistic representation. McCabe and Stekler do an admirable job in keeping Wallace human by using extensive interviews with his daughter and second wife and documenting his post-assassination struggles.
Wallace, however, remains larger than life. George Wallace is a remarkable examination of politics, both in terms of power and ideology. With its traditional but very tight technique and incisive use of archival materials, this film emerges as both a profound story of redemption and a cautionary tale.

— Geoffrey Gilmore

Screening Details

Sundance Film Festival Awards

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