(Sarasota, FL) The Sarasota Film Festival opened Friday night with a screening of a “Mike Wallace is Here”, a documentary that generated a lot of buzz at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The film vividly tells the story of arguably the most famous television journalist of the 20th century.
If you remember Mike Wallace from his days on “60 minutes”, you know his hard-hitting interview style that he created first in the 1950’s and later became his trademark on “60 Minutes”. This film goes back and tells his entire career story of when he began in early radio in the late 1930’s and 1940s doing shows like “The Green Hornet” and “Sky King”. Wallace was a radio actor and announcer before going into early television where he did commercials and talk shows. He also acted, hosted game shows and variety shows. But Mike Wallace, born Myron Leon Wallik in Brookline, Massachusetts in 1918, made his name doing a show called “Night Beat” on the old Dumont Network with a raw, hard-hitting one-on-one interrogation style which was at the time very unique, unusual and ground breaking. That show went on to the ABC network and lasted for several years.
What’s “Mike Wallace is Here” about?
The film depicts how Wallace decided to a change his career to being strictly a newsman. The tragedy of his son Peter who died in 1962 in Greece was the impetus to dedicate himself to doing more meaningful journalism. Wallace joined CBS and worked as a general reporter before he and producer Don Hewitt were given a directive to come up with an idea do something. What they created in 1968 was a revolutionary concept at the time, a magazine for television called “60 Minutes”.
The broadcast got low ratings for several years until the Watergate scandal in the early 70’s when the show took off and eventually became number one. Wallace’s investigative no holds barred style of reporting made him a household name.
The documentary directed by Avi Belkin, delves into the tough times including Wallace’s suffering from depression after being sued by General William Westmoreland over a report on the Viet Nam War and his failed marriages. Wallace admits in a candid interview done by colleague Morley Safer, that he was not a great father or husband and at one time thought of committing suicide.
Belkin makes great use of vintage footage from the CBS archives as well as kinescope clips from Wallace’s early career in television showcasing how versatile he was as a broadcaster. It wasn’t always a smooth ride for Wallace getting to the top of his profession, but it sure wasn’t dull.
“Mike Wallace is Here” will be distributed to theaters later this year according to Belkin, who held a Q&A after the screening in Sarasota. In the meantime, the documentary is being shown at other film festivals throughout the country. Highly recommended.