Article for HopeDance / April 15, 2008

“The greatest challenge of the day is how to bring about a revolution of the heart.” - Dorothy

By filmmaker Paul Gray

One night, seventy-three years ago in the city of San Jose, California, 5000 persons broke two accused prisoners out of jail and lynched them without due process of law. This action was encouraged, if not supported, by the governor of California and the Hearst newspaper empire. When the Federal Government investigated, not one of the five thousand could be found to testify.

This event was the genesis for my film, “The Ballad of Dorothy Dunn.” I couldn’t get it out of my mind. We researched it thoroughly from many angles and created a fictional story, framing the event in the context of a violent labor strike, as common to that time. Even the victim changed. There were a number of lynchings in the West during the 1930’s, especially of “red” suspects.

It all happened as a result of the violent polemics between elements of the extreme right and the extreme left wings. We researched all aspects of this, including the role of the American Legion, Communist influences, the actual diatribes on the radio and the psychology of vigilante and mob action.

But something was missing. I wanted to drive a humanistic wedge between the right and left extremists. During our researches, we came to admire the person of Dorothy Day, the famed Christian humanitarian and social activist. We developed a character based on Dorothy and built the dramatic action of a story around her – beginning, middle and end. Since it was not Dorothy Day herself, but a role inspired by her, we renamed the character, Dorothy Dunn. This is a woman who spent her entire life looking for the face of God in Everyman

We were then faced with the challenge of how to make an independent film out of dramatic material that if produced by Hollywood, would cost many millions of dollars. And yet, we did not want to sacrifice the dramatization of the complex themes inherent in the story. Most independent films simplify and narrow the event. We wanted to go in the opposite direction. By applying our researches to expressionistic forms, we were able to create our own newsreel theatres, incorporate archival photographs and clips, create radio broadcasts and, especially, intertwine fourteen ballad stanzas. These songs, accompanied by startling motion graphics, wove through the film like so many Shakespearean soliloquies, offering commentary and insight into the themes of the film. A new form, a new dramatic statement emerged.

I believe that we were able to portray the essence of this story at a mere fraction of the cost of a standard Hollywood production. This, to me, is the challenge of independent filmmaking, which I accepted.
Our movie represents a kind of guerilla filmmaking, adhering to the Maoist strategies of existing outside the system by making use of “all the people and all the terrain.” With the exception of the main role, the film was cast with local amateurs and shot in Guadalupe, Casmalia and Paso Robles, California – a true example of community filmmaking.

I hope that audiences will have as powerful an experience watching “The Ballad of Dorothy Dunn” as we did making it.

Paul Gray, Director
P.T. Gray is an independent auteur film director known for visualizing and dramatizing the inner lives and states of mind of the characters he creates on the screen.

Visit the Atelier Pictures website at
for additional information about the film, the director, other
current projects and available internships

Return to The Ballad of Dorothy Dunn ]