The documentary, MADMAN or MARTYR, about abolitionist John Brown, has plenty of ties to Detroit, one of the central stations of the Underground Railroad. The film, by metro Detroit filmmaker Luke Jaden, explores Brown’s life and the history of abolition in Detroit during the 1830s, ’40s, and ’50s. Brown and the ‘Railroad’ had an immense and profound influence upon the city, and in 1859, just days before Brown’s raid on Harper’s Ferry, the abolitionist transported 11 slaves to the Railroad’s Detroit hub.
The film weaves first-hand accounts, archival images, expert insights and anecdotes, and first-person accounts into a portrait of an angry, righteous man dedicated to ending the brutality of slavery. It illustrates how Brown’s almost-maniacal religious fervor and tendency toward violence ultimately prevented him from ending slavery, though his efforts helped to polarize Americans views, arguably a flashpoint for the start of The Civil War.
We were a little surprised to learn that a film of this quality originated with a Black History Month assignment to a metro Detroit teenager, Luke Jaden, who produced the film entirely on his own. The 17-year-old spent countless hours researching and editing historical material, lining up the extensive interview sessions with experts, and working with the City of Detroit, which provided significant assistance on the project. He sought out the talents of Detroit voice artist and actor Ed Kelly, who narrates and plays the role of John Brown in Madman or Martyr. Jaden also secured the participation of Tim Holmes (Oz, The Great and Powerful) and TV’s Phillip Edward Van Lear (“Prison Break”) to complete the cast.
We will be showing this documentary at Cinema Detroit as follows:
Sat, Feb. 8: 3:30 p.m. Tickets $3.
Sun, Feb. 9: 3:30 p.m. Tickets $3.
Wed, Feb. 12: 7:30 p.m. Screening + Q & A with Luke Jaden. Tickets are $5.