Director Visits Baltimore Roots

Director Barry Levinson has brought viewers home to Baltimore on three other occasions. In his latest film, Liberty Heights, he escorts them there once more.

This time, he explores race, religion and coming of age in the mid-1950s, reports Bryant Gumbel on The Early Show.
Levinson's directorial debut, Diner (1982), was set in Baltimore along with Tin Men (1987) and Avalon (1990). The latest is his most autobiographical film to date.

Liberty Heights traces the growing pains of a Jewish family dealing with the changing times, integration and anti-Semitism.

"There's a little bit of me throughout the various characters, not specifically," Levinson explains. "Things that happened to me, my friends and a lot of the stories that I knew about during that time."

The film relates in a comedic and dramatic fashion the notion that he had at age 6 when he thought the whole world was Jewish, he says.

"I thought everybody was. Then you realize some people are not," he explains.

"Then you realize that you're actually part of a minority. Then to have seen, as depicted in the film, when they go to a swim club, when it said 'No Jews, dogs or coloreds allowed.' Then you realize there is this separation that existed well into the '50s," he adds.

As with other of his films, he does what he enjoys in this personal movie and can only hope that others will enjoy it, he says.

"So if someone would say, 'You think Rain Man is going to do well?' I say, 'I'm fascinated by it. I think it's interesting; I think it has all the characteristics that a general audience can enjoy,'" he notes.

"Not necessarily to say it's going to be a blockbuster but certainly will carve a part of an audience that would be economically feasible for a studio," he adds.

Rain Man grossed more than $450 million worldwide. His other blockbuster films include Good Morning, Vietnam, which grossed more than $200 million.

He also directed Wag the Dog, Sphere, The Natural, Sleepers, Bugsy, Disclosure, Justice for All and Donnie Brasco.

He also executive produced the TV cop show, Homicide: Life on the Street, set in Baltimore.

But Levinson says his intention is not to just take viewers on a Baltimore trip down memory lane. The issues of 1954 are not gone; hate crimes still exist, he says.

"For me, it's a way to show what we are and what we were and some of the changes and progress we have made and some places where we haven't improed at all," he adds.

And sharing Baltimore's little secrets has not been a negative experience for the talented director.

"We had a big premiere, a charity function this past week in Baltimore. And the response was terrific. I think everyone takes it for what took place and understand that these problems existed; some do still exist," notes Levinson.

"The movie deals with so much humor throughout because I think it deals with the humanity of it as opposed to dealing with a dark angry sensibility," he adds.

Does he plan for more films set in Baltimore? "Every movie I have done in Baltimore I thought was the last one," he says.

For more information, visit the Liberty Heights official Web site.

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  • Alberto Moya

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