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Documentary on President Roosevelt features local actor

A President in our Midst: Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Georgia will air on Georgia Public Broadcasting on Tuesday, Sept. 21 at 7 p.m. and the film features a local actor. 

The documentary describes the mutual benefits that the friendship provided to both the President and the people of Georgia.

James Fowler portrayed four-time president Franklin Delano Roosevelt for a documentary film. FDR was the 32nd president from 1933 until his death in 1945 and he helped lead the nation through the Great Depression as well as World War II – in addition to bringing electricity to the south. 

The day in Barnesville in 1938 that FDR “turned on” electricity for rural areas in the US with the Rural Electrification Administration is one of the stories shared in the documentary. 

Historic photos from the Little White House, Roosevelt Warm Springs Archives, the FDR Library, and archives across Georgia are featured in the documentary as well. Rare film footage from the Brown Media Archives at UGA Libraries and footage from the FDR Library are also used.

In January, 2019, author and screenwriter Kaye Minchew of LaGrange and executive producer Dan White of Yatesville and Atlanta approached GPB with a proposal to create a documentary about FDR’s life in Georgia based on Minchew’s book, A President in our Midst. With the assurance of a broadcast platform, efforts began to secure the financing and technical resources necessary to complete the film.

“I’m very proud of the film and was told it will be made available to school systems across the state,” said James who has been a teacher for more than 40 years. “it’s a wonderful story and it really needs to be told. I hope young people will get something out of it.”

For the documentary, James spent time being filmed as he was driven in a 1938 Packard around Warm Springs. He also rode to the Eleanor Roosevelt Elementary School and visited Dowdell’s Knob at Pine Mountain in addition to shooting scenes around the Little White House and Roosevelt Institute. 

“It was a joy to be driven around in that classic car and it just really took me back in time,” he said. “Roosevelt guided the country through Great Depression and second World War and his words still ring true, “The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself.’ He was truly an inspiration to the country. He didn’t try to hide the fact that he was crippled although there was an agreement with the press not to show him trying to walk. However, when Roosevelt made public appearances at rallies and campaign stops, he had to be helped to the podium so the crowd saw that he was in a wheelchair. Regardless, his message was always one of positivity and achievement. It’s been very rewarding sharing that message.”

Fowler also did voice over work that will be included in the documentary. Dan White, a friend of Fowler’s from Gordon College, partnered with Kaye Lanning Minchew, the author of A President in Our Midst: Franklin Delano Roosevelt in Georgia and Georgia State University to film the documentary. 

“President Roosevelt had just completed an international journey in March 1945 and visited with Joseph Stalin in Yalta, Russia and Winston Churchill from England. The trip was very exhausting and his health was on the decline,” said James. 

“He returned to the states in late March, gave a speech concerning the achievements of this conference and then journeyed from Washington DC to the Little White House and was staying there in Warm Springs on April 12, 1945 when he had passed away.”

James lives with his wife of 38 years, Melinda Fowler in northern Pike County. He can be reached via Facebook under James Fowler. 

In January of 2020, Georgia Humanities agreed to be the official sponsor of the documentary and Georgia State University TV agreed to provide the technical expertise necessary to create the film. Filming began in September, 2020, in locations throughout Georgia.  LaGrange, Gainesville, Athens, Atlanta, Warm Springs, Thomaston, Barnesville as well as Harris, Meriwether and Upson counties are all featured in the film. Using drone photography and location shooting, combined with archival photos and historical film clips, A President in Our Midst brings to viewers a contemporary image of life during the period 1921 to 1945.

Financing for the film was privately raised through public donations. In addition, the combined talents of over 70 Georgians helped create the finished product. Carol Howington Cain, James Fowler and Bill Murray are featured performers in the documentary. Oral history narratives from a variety of Georgians whose lives and institutions were profoundly shaped by FDR and the New Deal in Georgia are also featured. This most consequential of stories will be presented to a new generation of Georgians. 

The documentary recently received two awards from the Southern Film Festival, held in LaGrange. The documentary was named the best feature documentary and received the People’s Choice Award.

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