by writer/director Andrew Heckler
After a twenty-year journey, I am proud to share my film Burden with you. After first hearing the story of Mike Burden, Judy Burden and the Reverend David Kennedy in 1997, I couldn’t help but drive down to Laurens, South Carolina and investigate firsthand. Burden is based on the true story of a Klansman, a man steeped in bigotry and hatred, who is pulled across the chasm to tolerance and acceptance through the love of a woman and the faith of an African American Reverend, who was his sworn enemy. To write and direct this story honestly, I knew I had to immerse myself in this world.
Upon hearing the story in 1997, I simply reached out to the Reverend Kennedy, packed up my car and drove down to Laurens, soaking in the church, congregation and environment. I wasn’t looking to tell a story about good and evil, but a story about people and the more time I spent in Laurens, the more I got to understand the reality of life in this small southern town, and was able to translate the tale not into black and white, but the grays that make up much of the human experience.
But I only had half the story and in order to get inside the head of a Klansman, I knew I had to experience them and work to understand where they were coming from. I posed as a white supremacist, visited the Klan and was able to spend time at the Redneck Shop and KKK Museum. I had to swallow my predispositions and beliefs and simply listen, and try to empathize. I began to understand them a bit better; no matter how much I disagreed with their ideals and philosophies.
No one is born a racist; it is learned. No one is born hating; it is learned. These people were hijacked in their beliefs because they were vulnerable to this kind of indoctrination—poor, orphaned, alone and scared. They were easy targets for hatemongers and bigots who peddle in fear. I learned that in order to free them from this captivity, we must be willing to see beyond the name-calling and the stereotypes and look at the person, listen to people and truly see people. I believe that Burden offers an opportunity to get inside the heads of these families built on hate, and to offer a true solution to help heal all wounds and create a more open and embracing community. Families built on Hate—look like family, smell like family and seemingly are family—go only skin deep. But a family built on Love goes all the way to the heart.
With my fearless producer, Robbie Brenner (Dallas Buyers Club), we kept the Burden flame alive through various incarnations of cast and financiers for 18 years. Sadly, Burden is more relevant now than ever. In this polarizing time, I am so grateful to be able to present this film and this sorely needed true-life drama to hopefully influence us all to be more tolerant, more compassionate and more loving to those who look different or think differently than us. A story of a truly unlikely friendship that at its core could be a path forward as to how to combat the racism, salve the bigotry and the intense vitriol plaguing our society presently.
As Martin Luther King stated, you cannot turn an enemy into a friend through hate, you can only turn an enemy into a friend through love. That is the message at the heart of Burden.