One night in 1966 in Sparta, Mississippi, police officer Sam Wood discovers a dead body. Being a small town, the crime rate in Sparta is unsurprisingly low. Even so, Officer Wood recognizes that the man’s death was no accident. He brings the case to the attention of his superior, Chief Gillespie, who leads the investigation. Shortly thereafter, Officer Wood stumbles upon an African American man waiting at the train station. Suspecting him of the crime, he arrests him, though his feeling of elation quickly turns to embarrassment when he eventually learns Tibbs is one of Philadelphia’s greatest homicide detectives. Tibbs’s chief then recommends the seasoned detective help assist the murder case in Sparta. Although neither Tibbs nor Gillespie are enchanted with the idea, they agree.
Guido Anselmi is a respected film director who has found himself in quite the predicament. He is in the middle of making a science-fiction feature that many of his actors and actresses seem to believe is a thinly-veiled autobiographical allegory. The production of Guido’s film is going smoothly – or at least it would be were it not for him coming down with a particularly nasty case of director’s block. It especially doesn’t help when he bounces ideas off of an influential critic only for him to shoot every single one of them down, calling them intellectually bankrupt, untenable, and convoluted. With his married life and production falling apart around him, Guido often reminiscences about his childhood and indulges in personal fantasies.