Tuesday, December 18, 2007

St. Clair Bourne - Black Film maker, Dies at 64

Sent Over by Curtis Stephen

Hello Everyone:

The news of a sudden death always strikes like a thunderbolt. Such was the case when many of us learned of the sad passing of the dynamic documentary filmmaker St. Clair Bourne over the weekend. His work was nothing short of stellar -- each time out the gate. He was the director of landmark PBS documentaries that probed the life and times of everyone from Paul Robeson to historian John Henrik Clarke. And then there was his fascinating profile of Gordon Parks on HBO just a few years ago.

His work blended the uncompromising stance of Oscar Micheaux and Malcolm X (with the firm belief that people of color should play a vital role in documenting their history) along with Edward R. Murrow (with his equally firm belief in the vast potential of television to serve as a medium that can -- and should -- enlighten and inform). I was fortunate to have met him in late 2005 at an event in which he spoke. He passionately addressed the challenge of fundraising for those filmmakers who sought to tell stories of history. And described the changes in the industry that made it possible (citing the federal cutbacks on public funding of the arts in the '80s that led to more restrictive grants). But for him, the fight in that arena was one worthy of waging and he inspired those filmmakers to go against the tide (as he himself once did in the '70s -- and each time since, for that matter) to make their films.

I was struck by the length of time he remained to talk to the aspiring and diverse group of filmmakers in the reception afterward. In fact, I left him there well after his speech and it appeared that he was in no rush to leave :) He loved his work and was passionate about many subjects. We celebrated the return of the late Henry Hampton's Eyes On The Prize series -- that definitive award-winning documentary on the Civil Rights Movement -- on PBS stations nationwide last year after a long absence. In the last years of his life, he was deeply consumed by his work on scores of documentary projects, including one on the history of the Black Panthers. Hopefully there's enough material on the cutting room floor (he certainly produced a great deal of it already) for it to eventually see the light of day. When I wrote my own retrospective on the Black Panthers for The Crisis last year, we bounced notes back-and-forth (and it was clear to me that what he planned to bring would have been nothing short of career defining -- this one was so important to him).

This past summer, Bourne was in Africa on a project. But upon his return, he shook off any trace of jet lag to proudly attend a Black Male in America townhall meeting / ceremony in Brooklyn this past summer organized by the activist and author Kevin Powell and his team (full disclosure -- I was part of that team). The ceremony honored a dynamic group -- among them: Ted Shaw, head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund; veteran journalist Herb Boyd; activist Jitu Weusi, and legendary radio host Bob Law. At a packed Hanson Place United Methodist Church, Bourne beamed alongside his friend and fellow honoree -- film director and producer Warrington Hudlin. Bourne's ready smile was one that revealed the essence of the man, but also his sense of humor. When he saw my automatic camera then, there was that smile again! "Betcha haven't seen that in a while," I remarked. "Got that right!" he returned with a booming laugh.

Finally, he marveled at the arrival of Kiri Davis -- the celebrated director of "A Girl Like Me." It was the enterprise and sheer guts embodied in a teenager to tell such a powerful story about the nature of colorism in her own voice that moved him greatly. In many spaces online now, tributes to Bourne have been pouring in. As prolific a blogger in recent years as he was a filmmaker, Bourne would have appreciated that too. He was 64. What a life and what a legacy. PEACE AND BLESSINGS......Curtis

ST. CLAIR BOURNE OFFICIAL WEBSITE: http://www.chambamedia.com/

NY TIMES OBIT: http://www.nytimes.com/2007/12/18/arts/18bourne.html

No comments: