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When Andrew Heckler first heard the story of how an African-American clergyman, Rev. David E. Kennedy, shepherding a flock in a small southern town, put his principles to work in order to save the soul of a Klan member, Michael Burden, who had seen the light, he knew that he had to bring that story to the screen. It took 20 years, but Heckler, an actor by trade, made it happen, writing and directing the project himself. When I spoke with him and his intrepid producer, Robbie Brenner, by phone on February 24, 2019, that was the first thing I asked them about.
We went on to talk about embracing the complexity of Burden’s character, who has to overcome a lifetime of racist programming; eye-opening moments during location filming; and how to properly dispose of prop Klan memorabilia after filming ends.
We finished up with why a 20-year-old story about fear of The Other isn’t relegated just to the south, or to this country; thoughtful musings on where that fear comes from; an insight into one of the film’s key scenes; and the metaphor within this story based on actual events.
The film tells the story of Burden, who grew up under the wing of the local Klan leader in Laurens, South Carolina. When he falls in love with a single mother, whose television he has come to repossess, she opens his eyes to the evils of racism, which he has never before questioned. Beginning where most stories like this end, with the main character undergoing an epihany about his world-view, BURDEN examines the long road to redemption, including that of the Kennnedy, who must overcome his own antipathies towards a man who once embodied everything that has oppressed him and his people for centuries. With a message of overcoming hate with love, and the struggle that represents, BURDEN is told with raw power and deeply moving performances.
BURDEN stars Forest Whitaker, Garrett Hedlund, Andrea Riseborough, Tom Wilkinson, Usher Raymond, and Tess Harper.
Heckler makes his feature film debut as a writer/director, and his previous work includes Law & Order and OZ. Brenner’s credits include DALLAS BUYERS CLUB, THE NIGHT CLERK, and the upcoming CALL JANE.