Documentary filmmaker Avi Belkin collaborates with the renowned Passion Pictures to unearth decades of never-before-seen film footage and outtakes from the vault of CBS news archives 60 Minutes programming of news journalist Mike Wallace in Mike Wallace is Here. A large treasure trove of the material comes to life from the networks' 60 Minutes' earliest days on the air.
As of 2019, Passion Pictures has had an unprecedented fourteen year run premiering films at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival. Mick Wallace is Here adds to Passion Pictures notable documentary film titles: Restrepo, The Tillman Story, The Imposter, Sergio, Searching for Sugar Man, Winter On Fire, Listen to Me Marlon, and Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars.
Belkin traces Wallace's career to give the audience an inside look at why this particular journalists and his influence was the cause of major transformations in broadcast journalism over the course of the 20th century. Talk show host Bill O'Reiley once noted Wallace as a dinosaur but in reality deemed him as his mentor. Belkin shows how many such journalists have tried to copy the Wallace style but none have truly understood it. Wallace was one of a kind. He took the time to reinvent himself. The Wallace reinvention, in part, was using a commanding voice and a will to dominate the conversation. He did so by asking very direct questions and holding the interviewee to give an answer.
Wallace often said, "Interviews are a way of learning about others, and ourselves through others." Belkin says, "In all of the raw footage of interviews watched of Wallace it was his magnetism and style which was so evident." Belkin adds, "My favorite follow-up question of Wallace was often just one word: 'Why?'" Belkin's research helped him understand the reason that this small word was Wallace's power tool. Belkin notes, "This goes back to his time as an actor; he understood that an interview is drama. Over hundreds of hours spent watching his interviews; I never saw one of Mike's that was boring." Belkin continues, "He filled each one with drama to capture an audiences' attention but he was also genuinely fascinated by the people sitting in front of him. He wanted to know what made them tick."
Wallace held a variety of jobs in the entertainment and media industry but what changed his life to reinvent himself was after the untimely death of his son, Peter in 1962 while his son was vacationing in Greece on a break from his University studies in journalism. Wallace traveled a lot with his work and while he wasn't home much he loved his family and would do anything for them. On a work assignment, Wallace received word that his son Peter went missing. Wallace knew something was a miss. Wallace travels to the vacation spot his son was last seen. His investigative journalism kicks in and traces his son's steps leading up to the day he went missing. While on a walking trail that heads up to a historical sight surrounded by beautiful scenery and the vast blue ocean, one side of the trail ran along a steep cliff. This was a typical tourist area and frequently traveled. Wallace just had a hunch to look over the cliffs at a particular point and while looking straight down he sees his son's body hundreds of feet below. Peter had fallen and no-one witnessed it. The shock changed his life forever.
In 1968, Wallace and CBS colleague, Morley Safer were approached to start "60 Minutes--a magazine for television." Their motto, "to go after the truth" and the two did just that in their reporting. Their bold investigative style to go after the Watergate case helped to put the network and their journalistic style on the map. The rest is history. Today, CBS continues the award-winning program and receives resounding acclaim for the stories from their journalists who have followed Safer and Wallace, to go after the truth and present it to the American people.
Belkin's Mike Wallace is Here not only celebrates Wallace's journey but shares career difficulties that lead to a depression from confronting big corporations: In 1982, the Westmoreland case and 1996, the case of the Tobacco Industry whistle blower.
Belkin gives clarification, "In 1982, a libel lawsuit was filed against CBS and Wallace by retired U.S. Army General William Westmoreland, disputing a report about the Generals' actions in Vietnam. It had a chilling effect on the investigative news organizations." He continues, "On top of that in 1992, CBS's corporate side tried to kill a story about the tobacco industry whistleblower, Dr. Jeffrey Wigand at the urging of cigarette manufacturers Brown & Williamson." Continuing, "Mike said that the Westmoreland case and others like it intimidated the big corporations that owned the networks, and he was right. The real intention in those cases was to deter other journalists. But, Mike wasn't going to take orders from anybody."
Wallace would say, "Fear is the energy of doing your best work." Though he was often ashamed of the fact that he suffered with depression, the transparency and honestly in which he shares is to learn from and to be taken seriously. Belkin says, "A person with depression often hides the truth, yet it's fascinating that all Mike did during his entire life was try to uncover the truth from the people in front of him." Belkins' Mike Wallace is Here documents a legacy for truth telling we hope is never forgotten. Only emulated!