Through a Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People

19 Nov
A photograph by Lyle Ashton Harris as seen in Through a Glass Darkly. [Photo: First Run Features]

A photograph by Lyle Ashton Harris as seen in Through a Glass Darkly. [Photo: First Run Features]

Announcing the premiere of The Henry Hampton Minority Documentarian Series

Washington University Film & Media Archive is excited to announce the premiere of The Henry Hampton Minority Documentarian Series. The series seeks to share documentary films made by minority filmmakers or that depict the stories of often underrepresented groups with a focus on the African-American experience. We aim to screen 4-5 films a year as well as bring in at least two of the filmmakers.

In partnership with Cinema St. Louis and the Department of African and African-American Studies, the series will kick off this Saturday, November 22, 7:30pm at Brown Auditorium with a free screening of Through A Lens Darkly with filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris in attendance. The film explores the role of photography in shaping the identity, aspirations, and social emergence of African-Americans from slavery to the present.

“Inspired by the book “Reflections in Black” (2000), Deborah Willis’s groundbreaking and thorough excavation of a vital and neglected photographic tradition, Mr. Harris’s film is a family memoir, a tribute to unsung artists and a lyrical, at times heartbroken, meditation on imagery and identity. “

A.O. Scott,  New York Times Aug. 26, 2014

Henry Hampton - Photo by Dave Henderson.

Henry Hampton – Photo by Dave Henderson.

Henry Hampton (1940-98) was a St. Louis native and 1961 graduate of Washington University. In 1968, he established his Boston-based company Blackside, Inc., which quickly became the largest African-American-owned film production company of its time. Hampton’s works chronicle the 20th century’s great political and social movements, focusing on the lives of the poor and disenfranchised.

Hampton originally aspired to be a fiction writer but the circumstances of his life and upbringing in the segregated city of St. Louis led him to his great subject: the civil rights movement. Hampton’s involvement in the protests in Selma, Alabama in 1965 created the idea for a film in Hampton’s mind. It would take twenty years to bring that story to the twenty million viewers who saw Eyes on the Prize. The series chronicled the epic struggle of unknown heroes, as well as the leaders of the movement. Hampton interviewed key people who had previously been unknown to historians, and he used innovative documentary film techniques to present the story. Decades after its release, Eyes on the Prize is still considered the definitive work on the civil rights movement. The Boston Globe praised the series as “one of the most distinguished documentary series in the history of broadcasting.” Those sentiments were echoed again when Eyes on the Prize was re-broadcast in the fall of 2006, attracting a new generation of viewers.








John Doar, Civil Rights Attorney, Dies at 92

12 Nov

Interview with John Doar – “Eyes on the Prize”

John Doar, a lawyer who worked as an attorney and as Assistant Attorney General for the Justice Department during the height of the civil rights movement, has died at age 92. Doar, who was interviewed for Henry Hampton’s series, Eyes on the Prize, played a major role in several key episodes of the movement. During Doar’s time at the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division from 1960-1967 he was on the ground  investigating civil rights abuses in the South, often in the middle of volatile and potentially violent situations, and bringing suits against people who violated the 1957 Civil Rights Act. In 2012, President Obama awarded Doar with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Doar first filed suits over voter intimidation in Tennessee.  In early 1961, he and fellow Department of Justice attorney Bob Owen began investigating voter discrimination in southwest Mississippi with Bob Moses’ help.  While Doar primarily investigated voter intimidation cases, he also accompanied James Meredith as he enrolled in Ole’ Miss in September of 1962.  After arranging for Meredith to be registered despite a confrontation with the governor and riots on the school grounds, Doar stayed with Meredith in his dorm room for several weeks, accompanying him to his classes with federal marshals.

In 1964, Doar was involved in the investigation of the murder of James Chaney, Michael Schwerner and Andrew Goodman during Freedom Summer.  He authorized the F.B.I. to investigate the case, and he was the lead attorney in the federal trial that led to the conviction of several people for violating the civil rights of the three civil rights workers.  Doar also investigated and successfully prosecuted the murder of Viola Luizzo, who was killed while bringing marchers back to Selma from Montgomery.  Doar had been present during the entirety of that march.

One of Doar’s most famous actions occurred after the death of Medgar Evers.  Mourners wanted to march up the main street in Jackson, MS, but they were stopped by police.  When marchers began throwing bottles and bricks and county police were brought in with shot-guns, Doar stepped between the two groups and convinced the marchers to disperse peacefully. He describes this moment vividly in his interview,

Well, I went to the funeral,  because I knew Medgar, and he was a friend, and his friends, people from all over the country came to the funeral… and they wanted to march up the main street in Jackson. And the police officials didn’t want them to do that, they said that they could walk across and then walk into a side street where the black restaurants and the black stores were.

And the police permitted the marchers–the memorial march–to cross the main street, but then finish up in the side street where the black shops were. And so they started back along toward the main street of Jackson and when they got to the corner of this side street that I’ve described, and the main street, the police put up a road block, put up a line of people and said you can’t march on the main street of Jackson, Mississippi. And, so you had a line of police and you had a line of kids, or 3 lines of kids, and they were 2 or 3 feet apart and the kids were singing and agitating, and yelling and shouting and complaining and then, who pushed who first, I can’t tell you but the police started to reach out and grab one, five, six of these kids and throw them in the paddy wagon…And when they got about a block up the street, the county Sheriff’s Office supplemented this line of police with County Deputies and they had guns, shot guns, and I didn’t think that they had the discipline that the City police officers did. And so half a block down the street, a black kid had come out of the crowd and throw [sic] a bottle and it had bounced in front of this line of police and the glass had skidded into them, or a rock had come out or a brick had come out and it had hit, hit the street in front of them and skidded into them and I was just afraid that if this kept on that somebody was really going to get hurt because I didn’t have any confidence in the discipline of those county officers. So I walked through the line of police and walked out and persuaded everybody to stop.

–John Doar from Interview with John Doar (Eyes on the Prize)

After his work in the Justice Department, Doar served as Special Counsel to the House of Representatives, and then worked as a senior partner in a private law firm in New York.

World War I and William Miles

7 Nov

This Monday Webster University will screen Apocalypse: World War I (Parts 1 and 2), “a monumental five-part miniseries produced by France 2 Television which used over 500 hours of archival footage unearthed after exhaustive research in archives, film libraries and private collections around the world.” Later in the week Webster will screen, The Officers’ Ward (La chambre des officiers) and, The African Fighters of the Great War (Les combatants africains de la grande guerre).

Flmmaker William Miles, whose collection is housed at Washington University Film & Media Archive, covered similar subject matter in his groundbreaking film about African-Americans during World War I. Miles’ 1977 documentary, Men of Bronze  is the definitive story of the black American soldiers of the 369th Infantry Regiment, known as the “Harlem Hellfighters,” who, because of segregation in the U.S. Army, fought under the French flag in World War I. The regiment spent more time in the front-line trenches that any other American unit, fighting alongside French, Moroccan, and Senegalese soldiers. The 369th became the most decorated American unit in WWI, and their regimental band under the leadership of James Reese Europe became famous and was often credited with helping introduce jazz to Europe.

The Miles Collection contains many photos, documents, and film elements relating to African-American soldiers from WWI, WWII and later decades. For more information about the collection, contact the Film & Media Archive.

The 369th Infantry Regiment, known as the "Harlem Hellfighters," return home to New York.

The 369th Infantry Regiment, known as the “Harlem Hellfighters,” return home to New York.

A Regular Bouquet: Mississippi Summer [director’s cut]

31 Oct

Director, Cinematographer, Editor: Richard Beymer
Producers: Richard Beymer and Council of Federated Organization Film (COFO). Copyright © 1964 Richard Beymer. All rights reserved.

A Regular Bouquet: Mississippi Summer

Washington University Film & Media Archive is excited to make Richard Beymer’s A Regular Bouquet: Mississippi Summer [director’s cut] available in full to the public. As part of a National Film Preservation Foundation Grant (NFPF) awarded this year to the Film & Media Archive, the original version is currently undergoing preservation.  Once the preservation work is complete the original version will be available for scholars and fans.   Thanks to the generosity of the filmmaker, the director’s cut is currently available to view.

Filmed in 1964 during the Mississippi Summer Project, a campaign to register black voters, provide educational opportunities, and build the movement for integration, Beymer’s film is unique as he was one of the few filmmakers working side-by-side with the activists and volunteers who made up the massive movement that was Freedom Summer.  In 1964, the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), an umbrella group of civil rights organizations that included SNCC working in Mississippi, issued a call for volunteers, and nearly 1,000 responded. After receiving training, the volunteers, mostly white, northern college students and recent graduates, joined the existing group of predominantly black activists. But it wasn’t just students who heeded to call to come to Mississippi that summer.

After gaining notice in films such as The Diary of Anne Frank (1959), Richard Beymer became a major star after appearing in West Side Story in 1961. He continued to work in Hollywood but was riveted by the news reports coming out of the South and Mississippi during the turbulent years of the early sixties. After being challenged to do something about his convictions by his agent during a cross-country trip to New York, Beymer decided to go to Mississippi during Freedom Summer.

At that time the I.F. Stone Weekly was an independent publication that covered the activities of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Since SNCC was one of the main organizers of the Mississippi Summer Project Beymer contacted I.F. Stone, the journalist and publisher responsible for the newsletter, and asked on advice on how to get to Mississippi. Stone’s advice, “You get in your car and drive to Mississippi,” while practical did not provide much detail on how to make contacts or find activists. So when Beymer arrived in Mississippi, he asked people in town where the closest SNCC office near Jackson, Mississippi was. When he found the office, he explained his presence by saying, “I want to be part of this.” A SNCC volunteer handed him a broom and said, “Fine. There’s a broom, you can start with that.”

After a few days, Beymer attended an out-of-state orientation and it was during this time that the idea of making a film came to him. He had done a lot of still photography and had wanted to make a film before and proposed the idea to the organizers of a piece that could be shown to volunteers so they would have some idea of what they were getting into. They agreed and Beymer returned to Mississippi armed with a 16mm Bolex camera and a supply of black and white 16mm film.

Group photo of students and volunteers with Richard Beymer at a Freedom School during Freedom Summer, Mississippi, 1964

Group photo of students and volunteers with Richard Beymer at a Freedom School during Freedom Summer, Mississippi, 1964, © Richard Beymer Collection.

During the summer, Beymer worked doing voter registration, canvassed neighborhoods, and in between doing this work filmed the daily lives and activities of the volunteers and the local people and children. He explained that he had his camera with him at all times and,”When I saw something that struck me, I had it there ready to go. I was making a film of my experience, wherever it took me.”

“I had no idea what I was getting into. Until you walk into it, you don’t know all of that.” — Richard Beymer

Speaking of the dangers of doing the work SNCC was engaged, Beymer said, “We were out in the boonies. It was kind of scary and where are you going to go–to the police? Anyone could have been killed at any time.”

Beymer describes the time as both positive and negative. Within the world of the volunteers and the African-American Mississippians, “We ate together, we went to these crummy little bars, we were all together there, it was great.” But he was shocked by the conditions that existed for black Mississippians at that time and that brutal poverty is captured in the film.

In addition to the poverty, the threat of racist violence haunted Freedom Summer from the beginning. On June 21, one week after the first volunteers arrived for training, three activists, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, disappeared. The FBI conducted a massive search and found their corpses on August 4. All of the work the volunteers engaged in was done with the threat of something similar happening to them hanging over their heads.

Beymer didn’t develop the film until he returned to Los Angeles at the end of the summer, and then spent the next year editing. The footage Beymer captured has a naturalistic, spontaneous quality that evokes cinema vérité techniques at times. The impact of this footage showing the work of Mississippi volunteers and the local people who had not been given an opportunity to share their stories has carried through till the present day. As a result, other documentary filmmakers frequently seek his footage. Most recently, filmmaker Stanley Nelson relied heavily on A Regular Bouquet when completing his film, Freedom Summer, which premiered in June 2014 on PBS and in Henry Hampton’s seminal documentary series, Eyes on the Prize (1987), episode five, Mississippi: Is This America? (1962-1964).

Participants at an organizational meeting during Freedom Summer, Mississippi, 1964.  © Richard Beymer Collection.

Participants at an organizational meeting during Freedom Summer, Mississippi, 1964. © Richard Beymer Collection.

A Regular Bouquet: Mississippi Summer is part of the Richard Beymer Collection at the Film & Media Archive. In addition to the film elements of A Regular Bouquet: Mississippi Summer, and a collection of black and white photographs that were shot during filming, the collection contains other titles by Beymer including “The Innerview,” “Point of Departure” and “Perfect Movies.” It also includes a taping of part of show 3 of “Midnight Snacks” by Andy Kaufman on which Richard Beymer appeared.

* Note: Quotes for this article are from a telephone interview with Richard Beymer, from August 18, 2014.

RAWSTOCK: Halloween Edition

23 Oct


Join Washington University Libraries for RAWSTOCK: Halloween Edition, a FREE screening of the scariest, creepiest, and most disturbing educational films, burlesque acts, and more!

The Halloween event you don’t want to miss is here. What’s scarier than middle school? Answer: the educational films you were forced to watch in middle school. The line-up includes spooky animation, didactic PSAs, and some rarely seen gems from the Film & Media Archive’s vault.

Friday, October 24, 8pm at Melt, 2712 Cherokee Street

Costumes encouraged!

Home Movie Day Around the World

17 Oct

Just a reminder that Home Movie Day in St. Louis happens tomorrow at St. Louis Central Public Library in the Creative Experience Room, 1pm – 3pm.

Washington University Film & Media Archive and the St. Louis Central Public Library host this event that invites the public to share their Regular 8mm, Super 8mm, 16mm, VHS and DVD home movies. In addition to screening home movies, the event provides an opportunity to learn how to care for home movies. 

Home Movie Day is an international event and the Center for Home Movies has been highlighting films from around the world. Below is a home movie that was shown at Home Movie Day Hirosaki, Aomori, Japan. (Junji Shinohara, 1975, Super 8, color, silent, 7:00. Location: Natsudomari and Asamushi, Japan).

The Center for Home Movies has also highlighted the films of Peter Mork. (1969-1970, 8mm, color, silent with commentary by Peter Mork, 8:35. Locations: Lake Ossipee, New Hampshire; Weston, Massachusetts; 3. Nantucket, Massachusetts).

These films show the unique and special nature of home movies, both personal in nature and a visual record of how culture, fashion, cities, and places have changed over the years, they can be enjoyed by anyone.

Home Movie Day in St. Louis is free and will be held in the Creative Experience Room, 1pm – 3pm. Film drop off will begin at noon.

For more information about this event, contact WU Film & Media Archive.

Home Movie Day in St. Louis

10 Oct

Join us for Home Movie Day in St. Louis!

Washington University Film & Media Archive and the St. Louis Central Public Library hosts this international event that invites the public to share their Regular 8mm, Super 8mm, 16mm, VHS and DVD home movies. In addition to screening home movies, the event provides an opportunity to learn how to care for home movies.

The Center for Home Movies has released a new trailer to celebrate the event and home movies. Complied from home movies shown over the past 12 years the promo highlights what is special and unique about home movies.

Contrary to the stereotype of the faded, scratched, and shaky home movie image, the original films are often carefully shot in beautiful, vibrant color. Home Movie Day has grown into a worldwide celebration of these amateur films, during which people in cities and towns all over meet their local film archivists, find out about the archival advantages of film over video and digital media copies, and—most importantly—get to watch those old family films!

–Center for Home Movies [press release]

Still have questions about Home Movie Day? Watch this brief clip for more info.

Home Movie Day in St. Louis is free and will be held at St. Louis Central Public Library in the Creative Experience Room, 1pm – 3pm. Film drop off will begin at noon.

For more information about this event, contact WU Film & Media Archive.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.