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Mickey Leland's Movie

Legendary congressman who died too young to be immortalized in film? Local duo fights to make it happen

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Mickey Leland
Mickey Leland died at 44 after serving as a U.S. Congressman for a decade. Courtesy photo
Barbara Friedman and Robert Cozens
Executive producer Barbara Friedman and director Robert Cozens have been working on the film for 1o years.  Photo by Janet Benton
Mickey Leland and Rodney Ellis
The documentary features an interview with state Sen. Rodney Ellis, pictured with Leland when Ellis served as Leland's chief of staff.  Wikimedia Commons
News_16_The Menil Collection opening, June 3, 1987_Mickey Leland _Dominique de Menil
Mickey Leland with Dominque de Menil at the opening of the Menil Collection in 1987. Courtesy of Photo courtesy Crossley & Pogue
Mickey Leland
Barbara Friedman and Robert Cozens
Mickey Leland and Rodney Ellis
News_16_The Menil Collection opening, June 3, 1987_Mickey Leland _Dominique de Menil

For 10 years, Barbara Friedman has been working on a documentary that not only chronicles the life of her close friend, Mickey Leland, but she feels will inspire new leaders to serve the disenfranchised with their whole hearts. The film, Mickey Leland: A Man For All…, tells the story of the former U.S. congressman and fierce advocate for the eradication of world hunger, who died in a plane crash on a humanitarian aid trip to Ethiopia in 1989. He was only 44 years old.

Now she and filmmaker Robert Cozens need $175,000 to complete the documentary and have launched a campaign to raise funds on the crowd-source platform Kickstarter. Thus far they have raised more than $13,000 from 51 backers with six weeks remaining.

 "When his plane went down, I didn't understand why his story wasn't being told. I was telling Bob [about this] and he said 'Well, I'll do it it you will,'" Friedman said. 

"I have about 2,000 names in my contact list. Everyone I know or have ever known," Friedman says. "The point is to inspire as many people as possible, both through the Kickstarter campaign and with the film."

Leland, a protege of John and Dominique de Menil who graduated from Wheatley High School and Texas Southern University, served in the House for 10 years, where he was a champion for the disenfranchised. Representing Houston's 18th Congressional District, he filled the seat vacated by Barbara Jordan when she retired, and was instrumental in the creation of the House Select Committee on World Hunger. The international terminal at Bush Intercontinental Airport and the downtown federal building are named for Leland.

After Leland's death, Friedman talked with Cozens about producing a documentary chronicling his life.

"When his plane went down, I didn't understand why his story wasn't being told. I was telling Bob [about this] and he said 'Well, I'll do it it you will,' and that's how the idea to do the film happened," Friedman says.  

Friedman and Cozens founded Alchemy, a film production company, to get financial backing to produce the documentary. The movie is sponsored by the Southwest Alternate Media Project (SWAMP), a nonprofit media arts organization that has been supporting independent filmmakers for 37 years. With SWAMP backing, Alchemy was able to apply for nonprofit grants and funding programs. PBS and the Houston Food Bank have also endorsed the film. 

Additional funds are needed to completed final edits of the movie, including music, narration, and effects, Cozens says.

The film should take about six months to complete and produce once funds are secured, Friedman believes. She and Cozens hope to have a small, one-theater screening event and enter the movie in film festivals around the world.

"The hope is we would have a screening event and invite those who pledged as special guests," Friedman says. "We've already had offers from the Houston Museum of African American Culture and similar venues who would be willing to host a screening."

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