Warner Bros. documentary featuring TTU's Michael Birdwell to air locally Saturday

What does Tennessee Tech University history professor Michael Birdwell have in common with actors Dennis Hopper, Tab Hunter and George Segal?

They all recently participated in a project to create a film documentary about the lives of Albert, Harry, Jack and Sam Warner — the Polish immigrant brothers who founded the legendary Warner Bros. motion picture studio in Hollywood.

The Brothers Warner is an American Masters presentation premiering nationally on Thursday, Sept. 25. Locally, it will be aired on the high definition channel for WCTE-TV, Channel 22.2, at 9 p.m., and listings show it is scheduled to re-air at noon and midnight on Friday. The program will be shown on the regular WCTE Ch. 22 (the normal cable, Dish and Direct stations) on Saturday, Oct. 4, at 8 p.m.

A Warner Sisters production, the feature-length film was unveiled at an invitation-only showing in Los Angeles on March 27 and marks the 85th anniversary of the brothers’ founding of the studio in 1923.

It’s framed by the perspective of Cass Warner, who is the project’s writer, producer and director, as well as granddaughter of former Warner Bros. president Harry Warner. She is also the author of Hollywood Be Thy Name: The Warner Brothers Story (University of Kentucky Press), which is in its sixth printing.

The film also features Eddie Schmidt as writer/producer. His previous credits include This Film is Not Yet Rated and the Oscar-nominated Twist of Faith.

Birdwell was chosen for participation in The Brothers Warner based on his book Celluloid Soldiers, published in 2000 by New York University Press.

“The book offers a historical look at the efforts of Warner Bros. to make America aware of Nazi activity prior to World War II,” Birdwell said.

“Warner Bros. was really the only major motion picture studio to take such a proactive stance against the Nazis, and in my research, I found that Harry Warner functioned essentially as the behind-the-scenes social conscience of the studio,” he continued.

Birdwell traveled to Los Angeles last year to be interviewed about his research, and Schmidt and Warner said the TTU professor’s historical knowledge of the political motivations of Warner Bros. really enhanced the documentary’s material.

“The studio’s efforts to mobilize the country — both onscreen and off — were largely led by the personal convictions of Harry Warner,” Schmidt said.

Warner agreed, saying, “But Harry was a quiet man not prone to boasting, so Michael’s interview — and his book — helped paint a fascinating and rounded portrait of my grandfather’s achievements, as well as the courage of Harry himself.

“Appropriately, the interview was filmed at the home of my mother, Betty Warner (Harry Warner’s daughter), so the whole thing was a real family affair,” she continued.

Birdwell said, “This is the ninth documentary in which I’ve been involved, and out of those nine, it’s the biggest film I’ve been involved with.”