In 1961, segregation seemed to have an overwhelming grip on American society. Many states violently enforced the policy, while the federal government, under the Kennedy administration, remained indifferent, preoccupied with matters abroad. That is, until an integrated band of college students — many of whom were the first in their families to attend a university — decided, en masse, to risk everything and buy a ticket on a Greyhound bus bound for the Deep South. They called themselves the Freedom Riders, and they managed to bring the president and the entire American public face to face with the challenge of correcting civil-rights inequities that plagued the nation.
Veteran filmmaker Stanley Nelson’s inspirational documentary is the first feature-length film about this courageous band of civil-rights activists. Gaining impressive access to influential figures on both sides of the issue, Nelson chronicles a chapter of American history that stands as an astonishing testament to the accomplishment of youth and what can result from the incredible combination of personal conviction and the courage to organize against all odds. (Shari Frilot/Sundance Film Festival)