The Mississippi Delta is known more for catfish than for gefilte fish, for its levees more than its Levys, and for its blues more than its Jews. For more than a century, however, the largely rural region has been home to a thriving Jewish community, rooted generations-deep in rich southern soil. Jews became an integral part of Delta life, forging a hybrid identity that was deeply Jewish and distinctly southern. Those that remain trace the history of their community that was dominated by fundamental Protestantism and divided by racial inequities. The film includes a surprising account of a Jewish reaction to the Mississippi summer. Narrated by Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Alfred Uhry (DRIVING MISS DAISY).
A native of Los Angeles, Mike DeWitt lives and works in New York City. Delta Jews is his first film.
After graduating from Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, DeWitt taught high school English in the Mississippi Delta town of Greenville as part of the Mississippi teacher Corps program. He began his documentary film career at WNET in New York where he worked for Public Policy Productions on a series of policy-oriented documentaries hosted by Walter Cronkite. At WNET, DeWitt also worked as a production assistant on the Peabody Award-winning documentary Road Scholar documenting poet and essayist Andrei Codrescu's travels across America.
From 1993 to 1994 DeWitt was an Associate Producer of Lifetime Magazine, a TV news magazine produced by ABC News for Lifetime Television. He also produced documentary segments for a classroom video series distributed by Prentice Hall.
In recent years, DeWitt has worked with ABC News on a variety of programs including Race to the Moon: The Tragedy of Apollo One, The Bomb Detectives, and episodes of the acclaimed Biography series for the A&E Network. He is currently working on series of programs about American history for HBO.
DeWitt began work on Delta Jews in 1992 while taking a driving trip through the Delta with a tape recorder. Over the next five-and-a-half years, DeWitt returned to Mississippi numerous times with his camera crew to conduct interviews and cover various events in the lives of the Delta's Jewish community. Funding from the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, the Museum of the Southern Jewish Experience, and the Mississippi Humanities Council enabled him to continue the work. In the fall of 1997, the project was awarded a completion grant by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.