The Barber of Birmingham

Robin Fryday

How did you get into directing?
I had been working as a still photographer but I had a vision for a film.  It was prior to the historic election of 2008 and I felt the stories of the foot soldiers who brought us to this day needed to be told, so I decided to make a documentary. As a still photographer, traveling to visit indigenous cultures, I interviewed the subjects for days to build trust, even before the camera comes into it. It was an easy transition from still to motion because what interested me was the storytelling.

What is your most recent project?
I’m in development on a new documentary about Post Traumatic Stress Disorder–its impact on our heroes, treatment, and how we look at mental illness.  We are exploring it in new and fascinating depths.

What is the best part of being a director?
I love inspiring and being inspired by a team of creative and talented people.  From having a vision, to seeing it take shape and come to life is exhilarating.
We had a screening of my documentary The Barber of Birmingham with 600 high school seniors in Birmingham, Alabama, and had a lot of the civil rights foot soldiers present.  Watching the students run to fill out their voter registration forms after seeing the film was incredible. Students said to news crews that before seeing the film they didn’t see the value of registration–they didn’t know of the sacrifices that were made so that they could vote. To see even one life touched by this story…that was a rewarding moment.

What is the worst part of being a director?
The paperwork. In the doc. world you have to write grants, constantly fund raise, and work with small budgets, but that’s also what makes it so rewarding when a successful project is completed.

What is your current career focus: commercials & branded content, TV, movies? Do you plan to specialize in a particular genre–comedy, drama, visual effects, etc.?
I’ve signed with Nonfiction Unlimited, and they are great at matching documentary filmmakers with brands looking to tell human stories in commercials and online. It’s all about the personal stories, no matter what the vehicle. We’re also looking at making a feature film, in addition to the new documentary that’s in development.

Have you a mentor and if so, who is that person (or persons) and what has been the lesson learned from that mentoring which resonates most with you?
My co-director on The Barber of Birmingham, Gail Dolgin, was a great mentor. She passed away during the making of the film. As much as she taught me about film, there were also many life lessons. When I met her she had Stage 4 breast cancer. Her dedication to the work and passion for life, even while facing death, is something beyond the technical things she showed me.

Who is your favorite director and why?
I’d say Steven Spielberg. I just love his directing and he can take so many different subject matters and make different films–all of them technically and visually great–with real connection to the characters.

What is your favorite movie? Your favorite commercial or branded content?
Schindler’s List–I felt Steven Spielberg found a way to tell the story of something so horrific…the Holocaust…and show that even amidst such evil, good does exist.  I know this film is used in schools to teach about the Holocaust. Because we’re able to connect to the main character, Oskar Schindler, students watch this film and learn about this dark time in our history, where they may not have listened and understood before this film.

Tell use about your background (i.e. Where did you grow up? Past jobs?)
I grew up in Chicago and even though I left many years ago for San Francisco, I still feel very rooted in Chicago. For years, I’ve been working with kids in photography and putting a lot of time into non-profits, using photography to help bring about social change. The Bay Area Heart Gallery is a good example. It’s an ongoing collaboration between artists and social services to help raise awareness on adoption and foster care for some really special kids.