DAWN PORTER | SPIES OF MISSISSIPPI
RELEASED FEBRUARY 3rd 2014 I 95 MIN
Spies of Mississippi aired on Independent Lens in February 2014. Spies of Mississippi tells the story of a secret state spy agency formed by the state of Mississippi to preserve segregation and maintain white supremacy during the 1950s and ‘60s. The Sovereignty Commission was overseen by the Governor of Mississippi and handpicked board of 12 of the most powerful men in the state. The Commission’s purpose was to preserve segregation at any cost. It was granted broad powers to investigate private citizens and organizations, to keep secret files, to make arrests and even to compel testimony. To do this, they employed a network of investigators and informants to infiltrate civil rights organizations and undercut their efforts. The film reveals the full scope and impact of the Commission, including its links to private white supremacist organizations, its ties to investigative agencies in other states and even its program to bankroll the opposition to civil rights legislation in Washington D.C. The program tracks the Commission’s hidden role in many of the most important chapters of the civil rights movement, including the integration of the University of Mississippi, the trial of Medgar Evers and the KKK murders of three civil rights workers in 1964. The film also profiles the fascinating characters that were swept up in the flow of history around the civil rights struggle. Demagogue Governor Ross Barnett unleashed the full power of the segregation watchdogs, using the agency to clamp down on virtually all dissent. Commission Director, Erle Johnston, lived a life torn between the satisfaction of serving near the height of state power and his guilt about doing the dirty work of the white power structure. Private detective R.L. Bolden turned his back on friends–even his family—within the movement to serve as one of the agency’s most effective and well-paid black informants. Ultimately, the Mississippi Sovereignty Commission spied on tens of thousands of Americans and collected over 160,000 pages of files. Dawn is an award-winning producer/director whose most recent documentary project, Gideon’s Army, won the Tribeca All Access Creative Promise Award, as well as a generous grant by the Ford Foundation, The Tribeca Film Institute, The Sundance Film Institute and Chicken & Egg Pictures. Gideon's Army will be broadcast on HBO documentary films. Dawn is an alum of ABC News and A&E Networks. Her company, Trilogy Films, has also produced a documentary about celebrity Chef Alexandra Guarnaschelli for the Cooking Channel. Dawn also works in narrative features as Executive Producer on Serious Moonlight, written by Adrienne Shelley and starring Meg Ryan & Timothy Hutton. Serious Moonlight debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival and was released theatrically in December 2009 by Magnolia Pictures. She is also an Executive Producer on The Green, an independent feature starring Cheyenne Jackson (30 Rock) and Academy Award-winning actress Julia Ormond. Dawn is a graduate of Swarthmore College and the Georgetown University Law Center.