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Won't You Be My Neighbor?

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It’s that time. A pleasant and upbeat piano melody by Johnny Costa rings out, while the television camera hovers over a miniature model of a cozy suburban town. It’s time for Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. Here he is, entering his dwelling and smiling while singing his theme song. “It’s a beautiful day in the neighborhood…”. Mr. Rogers beelines to his closet, where he swaps his sport coat for a sweater. He then takes a seat, where he swaps his dress shoes for a pair of sneakers. This was the routine that opened Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood every weekday morning. Rogers believed that his changing into comfortable clothes at the top of his show was essential before addressing his young viewing audience. After getting comfortable, Rogers would always take a moment to ask his viewers how they were doing, because he cared. Having a theme for that days’ show in mind, Rogers would ask questions to the viewers in an attempt to spark their interest in the topic of the day, and to instill relatability. The sincerity in his voice was always soothing and helped to establish trust and build rapport with his young viewers. This was exactly what Rogers worked nearly every day for thirty-three years to achieve.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor? is a documentary film about the late Fred Rogers and his show Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. The film is composed of archived footage from production days on the show, with the addition of interviews from people who knew him along the way. Fred Rogers chose children’s television over his entering the seminary, because he recognized his true calling, and felt he had a deep passion for teaching children and making a difference in their lives. He struggled with attempting to relate to adults, and even created another show to test that theory. Realizing that he couldn’t establish a similar relationship with an adult audience, he abandoned the show and focused on children. Fred was concerned that children were being exposed to the violence and negativity portrayed on television, so he countered with coping strategy topics for his show. Rogers recognized the dire need for continued children-centered programming and often fought to maintain a public interest, as was proven during a hearing regarding renewal of funding for local television broadcasting. Integrating puppets and a low-budget set design were all part of Roger’s plan to build and maintain a trusting and balanced relationship with children. There was never anything sinister or underhanded in Roger’s show or in his intentions. He just believed in making the world a better place for children through his television show.

Director Morgan Neville provides interviews with Joanne Rogers, François Scarborough Clemmons, Yo-Yo Ma, Joe Negri, David Newell, Betty Seamans, and Margaret Whitmer, and pairs them with archived footage of Fred Rogers, Betty Aberlin, Robert F. Kennedy, Christa McAuliffe, John O. Pastore, and Tom Snyder, resulting in a well-crafted and more than fitting tribute to the late Fred Rogers, his show, and his dream of making a better world for the younger generation. See this film and be moved.

Won't You Be My Neighbor? is streaming now on the following services:
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