St. Clair Bourne

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St. Clair Bourne


St. Clair Bourne, among the most prominent African American documentary filmmakers and a chronicler of the form in a longstanding newsletter, "Chamba Notes," died in December 2007 in a New York hospital after an operation to remove a brain tumor. He was 64.

"He was a real race man," according to his writing collaborator, Lou Potter,. The director and producer of more than forty films, Bourne has often created closely empathetic works that focus on individuals, usually—like himself—black and male — Paul Robeson, John Henrik Clarke, Langston Hughes, Amiri Baraka and Gordon Parks.

In the preceding year, Bourne had been working on a documentary about veteran Memphis-based civil rights photographer Ernest Withers, who died in October at age 84, and continued a project on the Black Panthers. Bourne was best known for the documentaries on Renaissance man Robeson and Afrocentric historian Clarke, and for "Making 'Do the Right Thing'," a 1989 work about Spike Lee's film about race relations in Brooklyn's Bedford-Stuyvesant section.

Bourne is survived by a sister, Judith Bourne, a lawyer in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands[1].

Early influences

Bourne's father, St. Clair Bourne Sr., worked for the New York Amsterdam News and the old Peoples Voice, another black New York paper, in the 1930s and 1940s. "My father was a journalist who worked with the black press. So that was the first major influence on me," he told an interviewer from Black Camera for a 2006 interview[2].

"I grew up during the Civil Rights Movement and would look at the reality of what was going on and observe that what was being represented on television was incorrect. While most of the network documentary units weren't, say, sympathetic, they at least were interested in telling the story. The problem though was that they were telling it from a different culture. They didn't understand the people and just got it wrong. I felt that as someone who was interested in journalism and whose father was a journalist that I could tell the story better than the networks could. So I had to learn the tools of documentary filmmaking. I went to film school and tried to combine activism with TV journalism. My decision to become a filmmaker then was the result of these factors."

Career

Bourne began his career with the old public television "Black Journal" series in the late 1960s, which evolved, after the involvement of Tony Brown, now dean of the Hampton University communications school, into "Tony Brown's Journal," which still airs. It was during the "Black Journal" period that he began "Chamba Notes."

"When I first worked for 'Black Journal,' it was what I call 'innovative TV journalism,'" Bourne said in the Black Camera interview. "It was innovative because editorially we took the position of the black subjects in the documentaries we made. We tried to capture what they thought and what they did, and very rarely was that done by other filmmakers[3].

Grenada trip

In 1983, two years out of college and a couple months before Reagan invaded Grenada, Kevin Blackistone joined the National Alliance of Third World Journalists for a fact-finding mission to Grenada. He was assigned a room mate, St. Clair Bourne[4].

Black and Green

Bourne went to Ireland with a small group of black ministers and activists and produced and directed "The Black and the Green," released in 1983.

"The 40-minute film, presented as a journal, explores parallels between Northern Irish Catholics and American blacks. In the Belfast ghetto, the delegation members are strangers in a familiar land of crushed tenements, graffiti-stained walls and heavily armed law officers,"

According to Bourne[5];

"'The Black and The Green' ends up seeming pro-Irish Republican Army in the same sense that a film about Selma in the '60s might have ended up seeming pro-black, but then, 'I'm a filmmaker from the '60s,' 'I try to be humanistically political. I don't try to impose easy answers. And to me it's a step in my own development, and perhaps for documentaries in America, if a situation that is not clearly identifiable as 'black-American' can be looked at by black Americans."

Malcolm X conference

A conference, Malcolm X: Radical Tradition and a Legacy of Struggle was held in New York City, November 14 1990.

The Malcolm X, Art and Culture panel included;

Chairperson:

Panel:

  • Tom Porter, cultural critic, author of "Social Roots of African American Music"
  • St. Clair Bourne, award winning film maker

Communist "Manifestivity"

On October 30 and 31, 1998 the Brecht Forum presented the "Communist Manifestivity -150th Anniversary of the Communist Manifesto" at at Cooper Union's Great Hall, New York one of the featured panels was "Popular Culture vs. Class Culture"; with St. Clair Bourne, Paul Buhle, Steve Duncombe, Tony Medina, Tricia Rose, Brooke Webster. Moderator: Yusuf Nuruddin. .[7]

References