Five years ago, documentarian Morgan Neville won an Oscar for his film on backup singers, “20 Feet From Stardom.” Now he’s back with a documentary about “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood,” called “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” And it comes at a time when he says a voice like Fred Rogers is desperately needed in our society.
“It was the voice I needed to hear because it’s a voice I don’t hear in our culture anymore,” Neville told TheWrap’s Steve Pond at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. “It’s a voice of an empathetic adult who’s not condescending, who’s trusting. It’s all these things I find empty from our media culture, empty from our political culture, and it was really nothing more than that as a notion that there was a bigger story here.”
Neville interviews several subject who knew Rogers at different times in his career, discussing his rise from a Presbyterian priest and lifelong Republican to an iconic image in the childhoods of millions of Americans. Rogers became known for using “Neighborhood” to address complex adult issues in ways that kids could understand, from death and divorce to the Kennedy Assassination. One episode even had a segment in the Neighborhood of Make-Believe where King Friday XIII decides to build a giant wall around his kingdom.
“He did this special the day after Bobby Kennedy was assassinated… He spontaneously said, ‘I need to do a show tomorrow to talk to adults to help them talk to kids, because this is something we’re all going through.'”
For more from Neville on how he told the story of Fred Rogers 15 years after his death, watch the video above.