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February 14, 2012

A big picture of the Lovings

'The Loving Story' premieres tonight at 9 p.m. on HBO

PLATTSBURGH — Archival-film footage chronicling Richard and Mildred Loving's nine-year battle to have their marriage legitimized in their native Virginia is at the heart of today's HBO premiere, "The Loving Story."

The documentary's director/producer Nancy Buirski and producer/editor Elisabeth Haviland James met at Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in 2007.

At the time, James had just moved to North Carolina, where Buirski lives and founded Full Frame. A week later, they did lunch.

"She showed me the 16mm she had just unearthed," James said. "I saw that footage (of Richard and Mildred Loving). I knew I had to be involved."

UNSUNG HERO

The footage had been shot by cinematographer Abbott Mills many years earlier, she said, with a producer named Hope Ryden, who'd wanted to make a film about the couple.

"Hope Ryden had read a little clip from someplace that had turned her on to the Lovings' story," James said.

Ryden approached attorneys Bernard S. Cohen and Philip J. Hirschkop, who'd represented the couple in the U.S. Supreme Court case, to see if she could get access to the family.

"They went back and forth," James said. "They decided she was trustworthy."

Mills and Ryden went to Caroline County, Va., where they shot intimate footage of the interracial couple in classic cinéma-vérité style.

"You don't see that anymore," James said. "It's such a rare document of history. It's not done in television-movie style. It was intended to be made into a film. Forty-four years later, we unearthed that. Hope is one of the unsung heroes."

She was unable to complete the project herself.

"She was a woman," James said. "She couldn't get the backing."

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