Tag Archives: filmmaker

The Jack Willis Collection

17 Dec

Film & Media Archive acquires materials of civil rights documentarian Jack Willis

Filmmaker Jack Willis

Filmmaker Jack Willis at Washington University

In 2014 the Washington University Film & Media Archive acquired the collection of prolific documentary filmmaker and producer Jack Willis. The Jack Willis Collection contains film, video, and manuscript material from original, independent productions by Willis. His films tackle racism, poverty, and environmental issues and show his affinity for what he called “unheard voices, unserved voices.”

A native of Milwaukee, Willis was born in 1935. He grew up in Los Angeles and attended UCLA. He got his start in television as an associate producer for David Susskind’s interview show, Open End. Many of the guests on the program were civil rights leaders who had become prominent by the early 1960s. A meeting with James Forman, head of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), led Willis to travel to Mississippi to document the voter registration efforts of the SNCC in 1963 leading up to Freedom Summer. The film that resulted, The Streets of Greenwood (1963), was Willis’ first independent project and one of the most important documentaries of the period. Willis returned to the South to film Lay My Burden Down (1966), which chronicled the lives of tenant farmers in Selma, Alabama a year after the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Throughout the 1960s, he wrote, directed, and produced a number of documentaries, including Every Seventh Child (1967), Appalachia: Rich Land, Poor People (1968), and Hard Times in the Country (1969). During these years, as he documented the struggle for civil rights, Willis had many hostile encounters with local authority figures, including one with Sherriff Jim Clark in Selma, Alabama.

Between 1966 and 1971, Willis produced a diverse range of documentaries for National Education Television, a forerunner of PBS. He continued developing and producing television programs such as the The 51st State, which ran on WNET in New York from 1972 to 1976. Winner of four Emmy Awards, The 51st State was a groundbreaking news program that often served as a platform for heated debates between audience members and local politicians. Willis also served as co-executive producer of The Great American Dream Machine, a satirical news program that aired on PBS from 1971 to 1973. The show featured Albert Brooks, Chevy Chase, and humorist Marshall Efron and won two Emmy Awards. Of his television work, Willis said, “I wanted to be involved in programming that was more informative and entertaining, to try to reach more people.”

In 1970, a surfing accident left Willis paralyzed from the neck down, but he regained mobility after six months of physical therapy and eventually returned to work. He co-wrote and co-produced the documentary Paul Jacobs and the Nuclear Gang (1979), which investigated the government concealment of health risks connected to radiation and the testing of atomic bombs in the 1950s. The film won an Emmy Award, a George Polk Award, and a Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Award.

From 1978 to 1980, in preparation for a documentary, Willis conducted interviews with Rosa Parks, Fred Shuttlesworth, John Lewis, Andrew Young, Stokely Carmichael, James Forman, Ella Baker, and other people who had been deeply involved in the civil rights movement. The project was never completed, and the Jack Willis Collection contains more than 81 original interviews that have never been seen publicly.

The Film & Media Archive also holds the Henry Hampton Collection. Hampton was an acclaimed documentary filmmaker whose many projects included the 14-part television series Eyes on the Prize, which chronicled the history of the civil rights movement in the United States. The addition of the Jack Willis Collection to the archive represents a significant expansion of the unique and original material relating to the civil rights movement that is housed at the Washington University Libraries.



Judy Richardson and Scarred Justice

21 Apr
Judy Richardson

Judy Richardson

Filmmaker, producer, editor, and former Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) member Judy Richardson will attend a free screening of her film Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre 1968. With a Q&A Session following the film.

Free Screening ~April 23, 2015 ~7:30 PM

Etta Eiseman Steinberg Auditorium

6465 Forsyth Blvd., Danforth Campus

Judy Richardson was one of the first producers on the Eyes on the Prize team the series created by filmmaker Henry Hampton and was instrumental in the production of the groundbreaking series about the civil rights movement. She began working on what would become Eyes on the Prize in 1978 and was a series research consultant, and then a series associate producer for Eyes on the Prize II. After Hampton’s death, Ms. Richardson continued to work in film as a senior producer at Northern Light Productions, as well as lecture, create exhibits,  and hold teacher-training workshops on the civil rights movement.

In this video clip from Brown University, Judy Richardson talks about what her goals were when working on Eyes on the Prize. She says,

The main thing about Eyes is it showed you people who looked like you in the audience. They were the ones who were the leaders. They were the ones who were plowing these fields long before any national organization gets there. And they are amazingly brilliant and amazingly brave and all of that stuff, and they look like the folks in the audience…but what Eyes does is it shows all these regular folks who made the movement, and sustained it, and they were just like those people in the audience.

Other interview clips with Richardson can be found here.

Continuing the work she did with Blackside, Richardson creates works which highlight little-known, underplayed, or ignored episodes in the history of the movement. Scarred Justice: The Orangeburg Massacre 1968 tells the story of a confrontation between law enforcement and students from South Carolina State College and from Claflin University when the students tried to integrate the only bowling alley in Orangeburg, SC. The bowling alley had a whites-only policy despite the passage of the Civil Rights Act four years earlier.

When the students conducted a protest at the bowling alley, they were met by local police who forcibly tried to remove them from the bowling alley. After an altercation, several students and one policeman needed medical attention. Tensions continued to run high as the governor deployed the National Guard and two nights later on Feb. 8 there was another clash between the students and the state troopers. The officers fired into the crowd repeatedly with shotguns loaded with high-caliber buck shot. According to medical records, 30 students were struck, nearly all of them in the back or side as they were fleeing. Some were shot in the feet or legs while prone on the ground. Three men, Delano Middleton, Samuel Hammond Jr., and Henry Smith, died as a result of their injuries. A later FBI investigation concluded that the only gunfire had come from the police and state troopers.

The All-Star Lanes bowling alley was forced to integrate following a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Department of Justice, but no one has ever been prosecuted for the deaths of Delano Middleton, Samuel Hammond Jr., and Henry Smith.

This film screening is part of  the Henry Hampton Minority Documentarian Series which aims 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. Co-sponsored by African and African-American Studies Department, the Center for Diversity and Inclusion, and Cinema St. Louis.

This event is part of the Law, Identity and Culture Initiative, in the School of Law, (Un)Civil Mediations: A Civil Rights and Visual Culture Symposium, co-sponsored with the Washington University Libraries System; African & African-American Studies and the American Culture Studies programs, the Department of Art History & Archaeology and the Center for the Humanities in the College of Arts & Sciences; the Missouri History Museum and the Post Race? Interrogations, Provocations & Disruptions Lecture Series with support funding from the Office of the Provost, Diversity & Inclusion Grants.

Talk by Documentary Filmmaker Jon Else

10 Nov

Opening title from "Eyes on the Prize: America's Civil Rights Years"

Talk by Documentary Filmmaker Jon Else
November 18, 2011 – 12 p.m.
Olin Library – Room 142

The Washington University Film & Media Archive is pleased to welcome producer and documentary filmmaker Jon Else to campus this month. Else is visiting the Archive to conduct research for his forthcoming book about the Eyes on the Prize series and its creator Henry Hampton.

On Friday, Nov. 18, at 12 p.m. in Olin 142, Else will discuss his research and share his experiences working as producer and cinematographer for the Eyes series—arguably the most influential documentary series of its time.

Else has produced and directed numerous documentary films including The Day After Trinity: J. Robert Oppenheimer and the Atomic Bomb, Yosemite: The Fate of Heaven, A Job at Ford’s part of Henry Hampton’s series The Great Depression, Cadillac Desert: Water and the Transformation of Nature, Sing Faster: The Stagehands’ Ring Cycle, and Open Outcry. He has also served as cinematographer on documentaries for PBS, BBC, ABC, MTV, and HBO.

Else has received a MacArthur Fellowship as well as several Academy Award nominations.  His numerous awards include four Emmys, several Alfred I. DuPont and Peabody awards, the Prix Italia, the Sundance Special Jury Prize, and the Sundance Filmmaker’s Trophy. In addition to writing and filmmaking, Else teaches at the Graduate School of Journalism at UC – Berkeley.

The Nov. 18 brown bag lunch presentation will take place in Olin 142 and is free and open to faculty, students, staff, and the public. For more information and to RSVP (preferred), contact Film and Media Archive at wufilmarchives@wumail.wustl.edu or 314-935-8679.