MFF: Mr. Rogers in ‘Won’t You Be My Neighbor’ shows authentic kindness
Won't You Be My Nieghbor
Saturday, May 5, 2:30 p.m.
MKA Upper School, 6 Lloyd Road
Q&A with producer Nicholas Ma to follow.
By GWEN OREL
When I was growing up, I called it “my program.”
No brother had better try to change the channel when it came on. Cats could stay.
When Fred Rogers said he was glad to see me on “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” I knew he was talking directly to me.
So did Nicholas Ma, producer of the documentary “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?”
“I think what’s been so amazing, throughout this whole process is how many people have these extraordinarily personal relationships with him. He was a television personality right now for the fact that he was a good person.He spoke so sincerely that regardless of where you are coming from he seemed like he was speaking directly to you,” Ma said.
The documentary covers the 50 years of the show, starred Fred Rogers and a cast of puppets, that aired on PBS. It is directed by Morgan Neville (“Twenty Feet from Stardom”).
Ma, who is the son of famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma, appeared on the program twice, once when he was three, and again when he was in high school. When Yo-Yo Ma told Rogers heard that his son loved his show, Rogers told the cellist to to bring him.
“Every story about Mr. Rogers, you trace it back, and it’s like my story, or your story, it begins with kids, and that sort of preternatural relationship he was able to build with millions and millions of children,” Ma said.
At 6, coming face to face with Rogers was scary, but Rogers’ allowing the small boy to take his time is something he treasures, Ma said.
“I have to say, I was really scared,” he said with a laugh. “I ran away from him.” And Rogers was not spooked.
Ma’s favorite thing in the show was the music. When he went on again at 16, he played “You Are My Friend, You Are Special” with his father. Ma played piano. “The only two times I’ve ever publicly performed with my father was on ‘Mr. Rogers,’” he said with a laugh.
At screenings of the new movie, the most frequent question is “Where are the Mr. Rogers’ today?” Ma said. And Rogers would say, “we shouldn’t have a lot of people doing what he’s doing,” Ma said. Rogers doing what he did was authentic for him. When Rogers spoke at a Dartmouth commencement, he said, “We should appreciate those people who always encourage us to be true to the best within us.” Ma thinks about that line every day, he siad. “It’s not just to be true to yourself, but to be true to the best within you. And it’s also not to be true to the best that’s out there. It’s to be true to the best that’s already inside you.”