Sunset and the Mockingbird chronicles the 20-year love story of jazz pianist Junior Mance and Gloria Clayborne, his wife, manager and soulmate.
Junior’s illustrious career began in the 1930’s. A memory he never forgets is playing his first club in Chicago at ten years old. Over the next 75 years, he performed and recorded over 200 albums with his trio and jazz greats such as Dizzy Gillespie, Aretha Franklin, Charlie Parker, Dinah Washington, Gene Ammons, and Cannonball Adderley.
Gloria grew up in the rural south in the 50’s. She was driven by an ambition to experience the world beyond the family farm and earned degrees in Education, with a major in Child Psychology, and Supervision and Administration. At 22, she became a teacher, never anticipating how relevant that training would become later in her personal life.
In 1981, Gloria moved to New York City and discovered jazz. She says it set her free. From her first live show, she was hooked. Over the years, Gloria saw Junior play numerous times. She felt his music put her in a euphoric state.
In 1997, Junior approached her after a gig and they had an instant connection. With five marriages between them, both felt they’d finally met their match, and married exactly one year later.
Junior recognized Gloria as a force. He saw her methodical approach to life as a perfect compliment to the freewheeling lifestyle of a jazz musician. He asked her to be his manager and they formed their own record label which Junior affectionately named after them: JunGlo.
Always the pragmatist, Well aware that Junior, 22 years her senior, was in his golden years, Gloria chose to retire early from teaching so they could tour the world together as partners in music and in love.
Then In 2012, Junior suffered a stroke that led to the onset of dementia. His musical abilities were initially untouched, but his slow mental and physical decline compelled Gloria to become Junior’s manager in ways she hadn’t anticipated. Over time, it is on her alone to keep their personal and professional relationship alive.
For the first few months, although the changes were subtle, Gloria is a wreck. Friends and family gently encourage her to look into a facility for Junior as a back up for the future, but she is adamant that he will stay in their home with her and his grand piano. She quickly realizes that if she doesn’t take charge, both of them will be lost.
As Junior’s professional manager, Gloria main focus turns to preserving his legacy. She doesn’t want to risk the chance that he might shut down onstage, tarnish his legacy and potentially feel humiliated. But as his partner, she dreads what will happen if she retires him from performing altogether.
For his entire life, music has been everything. And for the last two decades, it’s been the joy and the centerpiece of their life together. Without it, she wonders who he will be? Who will she be? And who they will be.
As she delicately and masterfully winds down his career, Gloria discovers that Junior’s affliction has ironically gifted him with the belief that he is performing nightly all over the world. She realizes he’ll never be without the music. It lives inside him for all time.
Despite her efforts, Gloria makes peace with the fact that his dementia is one thing she cannot control. She finds new ways to connect with and relate to the man she loves, and to care for herself. As she is forced to let go, she unexpectedly discovers a new sense of who she is without Junior. Within that discovery is the revelation that music, which brought them together, can continue, and even help close the distance between them, if she can learn to improvise.
Sunset and the Mockingbird chronicles the closing of a love story, pure and complicated. For Gloria, it’s about finding ways to love and care for herself and her partner as he loses touch with his present reality. In doing so, she is compelled to contemplate her own reality and ultimately consider who she is without him. In Junior, we witness the heart, mind and fingers of a jazz master hold fast to what matters most, and slowly let go of the rest.
Sunset and the Mockingbird gives a nuanced, human, and often unexpectedly humorous look at love and loss in a story that is far more hopeful than heartbreaking. Gloria and Junior’s relationship, in its enduring depth, complexity, imperfection and connection, offers insights into navigating life’s most difficult challenges with acceptance and compassion.
DIRECTOR • PRODUCER
Jyllian Gunther is an Emmy-winning director, writer and producer. Feature documentary credits include: The New Public, aired on PBS, distributed by Kino Lorber, available widely online and added to library collections of over 100 educational institutions nationwide. Her first film, Pull Out, critically acclaimed and also available online. Series credits include: ABC/Viola Davis docu-series, The Last Defense, (producer); JigSaw/New Yorker/Amazon Studios series, The New Yorker Presents (director/producer/writer); Emmy-winning series, Who Do You Think You Are? (supervising producer/director); PBS educational PSA series, One Way, for which she won an Emmy(director/producer/writer); Emmy award-winning PBS series, Postcards from Buster, (director,producer) She was reporter/co-producer for NPR's,This American Life.
Kali Holloway is the Director of the Make It Right Project, a new national campaign to take down Confederate Monuments and tell the truth about history; she is also a Senior Correspondent at the Independent Media Institute. She previously was Senior Writer and Associate Editor of Media & Culture at progressive news site AlterNet. She co-curated the Metropolitan Museum of Art's MetLiveArts 2017 summer performance and film series “Theater of the Resist.” She was Director of Outreach and Audience Engagement for the HBO documentary Southern Rites, PBS documentary The New Public and the Emmy-nominated film Brooklyn Castle, and Outreach Consultant on the award-winning documentary The New Black. She worked in production and programming on the long-running PBS documentary film series POV. Prior to that, she was speechwriter for a New York City Commissioner and Deputy Director of Communications for the New York State court system. Her writing has appeared in Salon, The Guardian, TIME, Huffington Post, The National Memo, Yahoo!
Melissa Neidich is an award-winning documentary editor, working in the field for twenty years. Notable documentaries she has edited include: The Rest I Makeup, Soul in the Hole, which won an Independent Spirit Award; Dark Days, which also won an Independent Spirit Award and a Sundance Audience Award; and Two Towns of Jasper, which won a Dupont Award. Her latest feature—Out of the Clear Blue Sky— opened to rave reviews.
Jonathan Gray is a practicing attorney concentrating in independent film and television for over two decades and is the founding partner of Gray Krauss Sandler Des Rochers LLP, which has provided production counsel services on hundreds of films. Notable films include Moonlight; Precious: Based on the Novel Push by Sapphire; The Station Agent; Black Swan; Beasts of the Southern Wild. Jonathan is also an Emmy nominated producer, and has produced and executive produced over 50 films. In addition, Jonathan is an adjunct professor at Columbia University School of the Arts.
Yance Ford is the director of Strong Island, which was nominated for a 2018 Oscar for Best Documentary Feature and won the Special Jury Award for Storytelling at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. Ford is a Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program Fellow and a MacDowell Colony Fellow, a CreativeCapital Grantee (Theo Westenberger Award) and has been featured in Filmmaker Magazine's 25 New Faces of Independent Film. He is a former Series Producer of POV, a graduate of Hamilton College and the Production Workshop at Third World Newsreel. The Guardian said of his directorial debut "There's something different about Strong Island, however, a film characterized by raw emotion and calm anger, which must surely be considered one of the finest documentaries of 2017 already.”
Mary Harron's debut film, “I Shot Andy Warhol,” was screened in the Un Certain Regard section at the 1996 Cannes Film Festival, and went on to pick up awards at the Sundance, Stockholm and Gijón International Film Festivals. Her 2000 film “American Psycho,” based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis, has become a fervently loved cult favorite.Other credits include the Netflix mini series, “Alias Grace.” She executive produced “The Weather Underground,” a documentary which offered a look at the radical 1970s political organization. Television credits include: Graceland, The Following, Oz, Six Feet Under, Homicide: Life on the Street, The L Word and Big Love. Currently, she is working on a film based on the book Please Kill Me, an oral history of the New York punk scene in which she was a key player. A co-founder of the legendary magazine Punk, she was the first journalist to interview the Sex Pistols for an American outlet.
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Donors & Supporters
THANKS TO THE SUPPORTERS BELOW WHO DONATED $150 OR MORE TO OUR KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN!
Thank you to the following folks for supporting our efforts with in-kind donations: Jonathan Lethem, David Shenk, Jonathan Gray, Michael Palms for BAM and the Scripp family, Rachel Esquilin, Bruce Jenkins, Michael Steinman, and of course, Gloria and Junior Mance.