The black power salute by two of the three winners of the 200 metre sprint, Tommy Smith and John Carlos at the 1968 Mexico Olympics, was an iconic moment in the US civil rights movement. What part in this event did the white Australian who ran second, Peter Norman, play and what price did he pay for standing up for his humanitarian beliefs, asks this documentary.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
This wonderful humanitarian story - especially relevant on the eve of the Beijing Olympics - deserves to be told and it's a bit of a surprise it hasn't been told before, while Peter Norman was still alive. He died of a heart attack at age 65 in October 2006, but luckily his nephew the filmmaker, Matt Norman, recorded a lengthy interview with him earlier, which forms the backbone of the film.
But maybe the bigger surprise is that Norman was not invited to the Sydney Olympics ceremony - considering he is still the record holding 200 metre sprinter in Australian history. This and similar socio-political ramifications that flowed from that famous moment in Mexico in 1968, is what the film tries to be about. It succeeds for most of the time, but the filmmaker is too close to his subject to avoid some (forgivable) lapses of filmmaking judgement. A tad repetitious out of conviction for the story's central truths, it also takes too long to reveal the source of some of the tribute footage that forms a large part of the storytelling from the two men who stood on that podium and made a defiant, brave and telling gesture. It's an iconic image that stays with us well after the end.
To its credit, the film puts the story in its political context, so much so that we understand exactly how important every action was, from the clenched fist of the two black athletes on the podium with Norman, to the subsequent omission of Norman from the next Olympic team - not to mention the aftershocks experienced by the other two, and by Australia's team manager. Olympic boss Avery Brundage comes off like a racist pig, so affronted by the salutes he demands retribution.
Watching this film 40 years after the event drives home the sad realisation how little progress has been made in the area of racial harmony and compassion in this world. It also reminds us that Australia has something to be proud of as well as something to be ashamed of in the story of Peter Norman.
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CAST: Documentary featuring Peter Norman, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Paul Hoffman, Bob Steiner, Cleve Livingston
NARRATION: Christopher Kirby
PRODUCER: Matt Norman, David Redman
DIRECTOR: Matt Norman
SCRIPT: Matt Norman
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Martin Smith
EDITOR: John Leonard, Jane Moran
MUSIC: David Hirschfelder
RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Paramount
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 17, 2008