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Del Mar man aims to immortalize uncle’s civil-rights role via film

Director Brian Jenkins. Courtesy photo
Director Brian Jenkins. Courtesy photo

Like many other young Americans, Brian Jenkins learned about the civil rights movement in school. But he also heard firsthand stories from his uncle, John Witeck.

Witeck’s journey to Selma, Ala., shaped his life. Now, in an effort to preserve an important piece of his family’s past, the Del Mar director is sharing the story in a new film called, “Answering the Call.”

“It was crazy that somebody in my family, who I looked up to, witnessed a major piece of American history,” said Jenkins, who has lived in Del Mar for two years. “I knew that one day I wanted to make a film about his march in the movement.”

John Witeck was only a second-year student at the University of Virginia when civil rights protesters clashed with police officers. He watched news reports from March 7, 1965, or “Bloody Sunday,” and witnessed protesters being beaten and bloodied.

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Inspired by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s call to action, Witeck, fellow students and members of the university’s religious community drove to Selma and joined the movement.

Witeck attended King’s rally at Brown Chapel. And the day after the rally, Jenkins said his uncle was nearly killed by a group of men because of his support for the civil rights movement.

Brian Jenkins with his uncle John Witeck in 1989. Courtesy photo
Brian Jenkins with his uncle John Witeck in 1989. Courtesy photo

Though the film will follow his uncle’s journey, the project has become Jenkins’ answer to his own call.

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An Indiana native, Jenkins started his career in music. As the owner of the record label Riot House Records, he helped develop a vinyl-collecting documentary called “Records Collecting Dust” last year.

“Answering the Call” marks his directorial debut.

Jenkins said he was inspired by his uncle’s story at an early age. He recalled hearing the tale from his mother when he was in high school.

“I always grew up hearing these stories about my uncle,” Jenkins remembered. “He’s the most kind and loving person I know.”

Although Witeck was in Selma for just four days, the trip inspired his life’s work.

After returning home and graduating from college in Virginia, Witeck studied Asian studies in Hawaii, where he also became involved in civil rights issues.

“That was really the catalyst to what he would do for the rest of his life,” Jenkins said. “It’s something that I wanted to document for him to have.”

Jenkins will begin shooting in the start of 2016. He plans to return to Selma with his uncle to retrace his steps. The film will also examine the state of voting rights in the United States.

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With a completion date slated for the end of next year, Jenkins plans to submit the film to festivals and also aims to release the documentary digitally and to theaters.

To help cover the expenses, he’s established a Indiegogo fundraising campaign.

“I hope people take a leap of faith,” Jenkins said. “You never know when you open your heart to something how it will change you.”

For more about the film, visit www.answeringthecallselma.com.


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