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Houston Breakthrough 1980-07 - 1980-08
Pages 26 and 27
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Houston Breakthrough 1980-07 - 1980-08 - Pages 26 and 27. July 1980 - August 1980. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. University of Houston Digital Library. Web. October 31, 2014. http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/286/show/279.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

(July 1980 - August 1980). Houston Breakthrough 1980-07 - 1980-08 - Pages 26 and 27. Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters. Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries. Retrieved from http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/286/show/279

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

Houston Breakthrough 1980-07 - 1980-08 - Pages 26 and 27, July 1980 - August 1980, Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters, Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries, accessed October 31, 2014, http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist/item/286/show/279.

Disclaimer: This is a general citation for reference purposes. Please consult the most recent edition of your style manual for the proper formatting of the type of source you are citing. If the date given in the citation does not match the date on the digital item, use the more accurate date below the digital item.

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Title Houston Breakthrough 1980-07 - 1980-08
Publisher Breakthrough Publishing Co.
Date July 1980 - August 1980
Subject.Topical (LCSH)
  • Women--Texas--Periodicals
  • Feminism--United States--Periodicals
Subject.Geographic (TGN)
  • Houston, Texas
Genre (AAT)
  • periodicals
Language English
Physical Description 33 page periodical
Format (IMT)
  • image/jpeg
Original Item Location http://library.uh.edu/record=b2332724~S11
Digital Collection Houston and Texas Feminist and Lesbian Newsletters
Digital Collection URL http://digital.lib.uh.edu/collection/feminist
Repository Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries
Repository URL http://info.lib.uh.edu/about/campus-libraries-collections/special-collections
Use and Reproduction Educational use only, no other permissions given. Copyright to this resource is held by the content creator, author, artist or other entity, and is provided here for educational purposes only. It may not be reproduced or distributed in any format without written permission of the copyright owner. For more information please see the UH Digital Library Fair Use policy on the “About” page of this website.
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Item Description
Title Pages 26 and 27
Subject.Topical (LCSH)
  • Women--Texas--Periodicals
  • Feminism--United States--Periodicals
Repository Special Collections, University of Houston Libraries
Use and Reproduction Educational use only, no other permissions given. Copyright to this resource is held by the content creator, author, artist or other entity, and is provided here for educational purposes only. It may not be reproduced or distributed in any format without written permission of the copyright owner. For more information please see the UH Digital Library Fair Use policy on the “About” page of this website.
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Transcript the Cercle Culturel de Langue Francaise in Buffalo, arranging for the showing of films and videotapes by young independents from Southern Ontario on Channel 17, and inviting his old friend, Terence McCartney-Filgate, a producer at the Canadian Broadcasting Company, to pay regular visits to his classes at the Center for Media Study. A Man for All Regions For all that, he was more deeply committed to American regionalism than any filmmaker of his time. He had directed what became one of the first regional media centers in the United States, the Media Center, later the Southwest Alternate Media Project in Houston, Texas, and he played an active role as a member of the Board of Directors of Media Study/ Buffalo, another regional center. He had served for three years as a key member of the Committee on Film and Television Resources and Services (1973-75) which produced The Independent Film Community: A Report on the Status of Independent Film in the United States (1977), a document that brought this movement to the attention of national and state legislators. During the week he was dying, there took place a series of screenings on "The Advantages of Diversity" at the Tenth Public Television and the Independent Film Seminar at Arden House in New York, a program which he had coordinated for International Film Seminars. He was to moderate the seminar, attended by 100 filmmakers and public television station programmers, the theme being the exposure of work made by Black, Hispanic, Puerto Rican, Native American and Ethnic minorities. It was the first time that a group of Native American image- makers brought their work and philosophy to the Seminar, and on its last day, Larry Littlebird (Circle Film, Sante Fe, New Mexico) recorded on cassette a "Song for the Journey" (from The Sweathouse) and that gift was in the mail when the journey began. His regionalism was often misunderstood. It was confused with evidencing too much concern for a particular locality —Houston, Buffalo, the Southwest, the Northeast. People were genuinely bewildered by his seeming lack of interest in what everyone else took to be of acknowledged national importance. But he was aware of living through a period when nationalism was undergoing a transformation, back toward local community authority and forward toward world cooperation. His way of moving simultaneously in two seemingly opposite directions was just a means of maintaining the stability of his commitments. His tensegrity was located in his moral consciousness. His belief, quite simply, was that creators could arise in any town on earth. Citizenship, in fact, was the key theme of his classes. For the 12 years that I knew him, he steadfastly maintained that democracy demanded that our public media be more diverse in giving access to a variety of new voices. In his essay, Super-8 and the Community: A New Role for Film in the University, he wrote: "My key concept was the democratization of media in terms of promoting general awareness and providing access to the materials of production." He did not hold to this as some comfortable ideal, but rather fought continually to make it a practical reality. In Houston, he teamed up with Ed Hugetz of the Southwest Alternate Media Project and with KUHT-TV to produce a weekly program of work by independent imagemakers in the Southwest, The Territory. He told me that he had taken the name from Oklahoma: Territory folks should stick together, Territory folks should all be pals. Cowboys, dance with the farmer's daughters! Farmers, dance with the rancher's gals! In Buffalo, he collaborated with Lynn Corcoran of Media Study/Buffalo and with WNED-TV to produce a series of 16 weekly programs, The Frontier, which featured 27 independent makers from Western New York and Southern Ontario. Through his involvement with the USIA in the early years of the Kennedy administration, he was aware that the physical frontiers were being transmuted into "new frontiers" located on the moon and in the urban ghetto. His Love for Film The range and penetration of his film knowledge was quite astonishing. His first love, of course, was the documentary, and that extended from the newsreels to cinema-verite, and from ethnographic cinema to the personal film diary. His eight lectures on "The Documentary Impulse," supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1977, covered the period from 1895 through 1975, and focussed on the gradually narrowing gap between the filmmaker and his subject and on the increasing need for the filmmaker to be more selfreflexive in his activity. The materials which he presented in his courses here were characterized by his continual world-wide hunt for new directions, emerging talents, and unlikely subjects. At the same time, he was one of the most gifted commentators on the classic narrative form, whether it be in the films of John Ford, Howard Hawks, Alfred Hitchcock or Jean Renoir. The last film he purchased for use in his Buffalo classes was Ford's Stagecoach. He had a very special allegiance to Roberto Rossellini. Neorealism had emerged during his own formative period as a filmmaker and its influence was acknowledged in The Olive Trees of Justice. Later, he admired Ros- sellini's 12-part series for television. La Lotta dell'uomo per la sua sopravvivenza, The Struggle of Man for his Survival, as a revolutionary educational force. He was also completely sympathetic to, and at home with, the group of "New Wave" French directors who subverted and transformed the classic narrative forms. He had lived through their struggles when he was at the Institut des Hautes Etudes Cinematographiques in Paris, and he was designing a course which would recreate for our own students his experience of those years in the late fifties and early sixties when he talked with, read the manifestos, attended the screenings, and absorbed the reactions to the work of Godard, Bresson, Truffaut, Chabrol, Marker, Resnais, Demy, Lelouche, Melville and Made. When he first came to Buffalo, he had not yet had the opportunity, at any time in his career, to become familiar with the avant-garde tradition of film experimentation, and I watched as he began to probe the conceptual groundings, craftsmanships, and commitments of his colleagues. It was not long before he was introducing the work of Paul Sharits and Hollis Frampton in museums in Corpus Christi and Dallas-Fort Worth, and arranging for visiting lectures of Woody and Steina Vasulka in Houston. Interviewer He gave respect to the work of the older makers, enthusiasm to the work of his peers, and encouragement to the work of the young. It was a special pleasure for me to observe him over the years in conversations with Roberto Rossellini, Frank Capra and Leo Hurwitz. However courteous, he always had a relentless series of THE HOUSTON LEGACY Here's a camera, make a film. -BY ED HUGETZ- The late James Blue's work was recognized internationally, and a considerable body of that work was done here in Houston. Ed Hugetz, Blue's student and colleague, talked to Breakthrough's Missy Hauge about Blue's life and his special legacy to this community. It was art patrons Jean and Dominique de Menil who created a media center for Houston in 1970. Dr. Gerald O'Grady, a media educator and the spirit behind the cause, invited James Blue to develop a film program and community within the city of Houston. It was advertised in the newspaper that anyone interested in making films should come to the media center and interview with James Blue. So we all arrived, 25 of us, and each person was given a camera, a tape recorder, a tripod, an editor and a splicer. He told us we would now be able to make our own films. He trained us how to use the Super 8 equipment and we made movies. The second thing that he did, which O'Grady had already started, was bring in filmmakers to talk about their films. I remember James said at the end of his first visit, "When I come back in the fall, I want to build a film culture; which means that we are not just going to be watching films, we are going to have to discuss them. We are going to create a group of people that are very concerned about the ideas that are being put forth in film." This was an idea that he got from France, where there were cine clubs all around the country. People used to meet there once a week to look at films and discuss them. He said there was no way we were ever going to have film in Houston unless there was a film culture, and the film series and discussions were the key to that. The third thing that he did was to allow those of us he had trained the first time around to teach others in the summer workshops. The first group we had were school teachers. It was thought that was a good strategy because if we taught them how to make films then they could go and teach students. That program continues today. After this he realized only certain people would come to take the workshop, so in 1974 we traveled out into the community. While all this was going on, James was working with Richard Leacock and MIT to develop Super 8 equipment that would work exactly like professional 16mm worked. This was really important to him, because if he was going to start training a lot of people to make films he had to have a way to make films cheaper. There just was not enough money for everybody to make $25,000 films. People needed to make films with good equipment for a couple of hundred dollars. His foresight into the importance of Super 8 cannot be overestimated. He wanted Super 8 to be accepted as a professional guage to make it possible for more people to make films. His next big project was in 1975. He instituted TexPo, a screening of films by Southeastern filmmakers. He now had the equipment to make films, he had a group of people to make films and teach others to make films and a one-weekend affair for people to show their films. The last thing he had to do was find a way to exhibit films on a regular basis in the community. In 1976 he arranged a one-hour weekly talk-show on public television to air works produced by independents in any medium (Super 8, video, 16mm). That program, The Territory, can still be seen on Channel 8, Monday nights at 10:30. James' filmmaking career began in 1958 when he studied at the Institute for Higher Studies in Cinematography (IDHEC), in Paris. During this period there was an incredible enthusiasm for making films in a new way. Instead of producing the slick films of Hollywood, the young filmmakers in France wanted to produce realistic films. They were greatly inspired by Rossellini and Italian neo-realism, which insisted that films ought to be made about ordinary life. The French New Wave of filmmaking produced films about ordinary people but added a certain spirit and intelligence, an aggressiveness about examining life. This was the atmosphere that James absorbed. From IDHEC he went to Algeria, where he produced short documentaries for Studios Africa from 1960 to 1962. In one particular film, the Algerian government wanted to show farmers how to plant their crops using irrigation techniques. This film, called Amal, only 15 minutes long, showed James' sensitivity. James did not want to speak down to the Algerian farmers. He felt uneasy about going in and telling people who had been farming all their lives how to plow their fields. He developed a method of getting the information across so that they would not be insulted. To do this, he created a fairy tale of a little boy named Amal, whose grandfather had always insisted on things that the little boy would have preferred to check out on his own. One day he went off to the other side of the mountain, where his grandfather had told him never to go. Here he found a valley where people did things differently. His grandfather had always insisted on plowing one way, but the people on the other side plowed another way and the land James Blue editing his film Who Killed Fourth Ward? in 1977. held water, so they had a richer, more fertile valley. As the boy returned home he came upon his grandfather's funeral procession. Amal felt guilty because the last thing he had done was to disobey his grandfather but at the same time he had learned something valuable. James was the kind of revolutionary who would not go out and flaunt his knowledge in the establishment's face. He had a great deal of love for people, and he had new ways of doing things. He chose not to violate traditions in the process of changing their course. He was born in Oklahoma in 1930 in the middle of the depression. People were losing their farms. His father nearly had a nervous breakdown because he couldn't feed the family properly. There was a tremendous feeling that people, if given a chance, could do something, but for some reason the people weren't given a chance. James developed a concern for the neglected people. The project in Algeria was just an agricultural film but James realized that it put him in contact with the people, and the subject matter became important to him. The most important film he made in Algeria was called 77?e Olive Trees of Justice. During the Algerian revolt against French colonialism, James told the story of a relationship between a father and son, French landowners in Algeria. The father held to the traditional ways but the son was beginning to see the negative impact of French society on the lives of the native Algerians. At this time in Algeria there were literally bombs going off in the streets. Although James' film crew was threatened several times, he kept the fact of the revolution in the background and emphasized the human trauma of the individual who cannot make up his or her mind between tradition and novel ideas. This story of an individual's struggle to make sense out of what he saw around him was a very different kind of tale than the one depicted in a film being made at the same time. 77?e Battle of Algiers presented the French as torturers and the Algerians as noble sufferers. Olive Trees led a more in-depth probe into the situation through the eyes of one involved person. James had the idea that the attention in conventional history is displaced, and does not emphasize the fact that history is made by the lives of people. This philosophy is part of the neo-realist and new wave schools, both of which had a great deal of influence on James during his student days. Olive Trees won many awards in Europe. But when he came back to the States to distribute it, he was told to add a love/ sex scene in order to make it more appealing to audiences. This was a great shock to James at the time, because the subject matter was not meant to be particularly attractive, but was an attempt to convey real information about real lives. He then went to work for the United States Information Agency, which produces propaganda films about this country for the rest of the world. His films have been considered the best films the agency had ever been involved with. One film in particular was called The March, about the civil rights march on Washington where Martin Luther fKing made his famous "I have a dream" speech. The speech is the centerpiece of the film. James had all the resources he wanted, 13 camera operators and all the money he wanted. But instead of making the film a spectacular, he decided to point out the more subtle details of the march. For instance, one sequence portrayed ordinary people making sandwiches for the 250,000 demonstrators. Instead of making King out to be some sort of prophet, he made it clear that King was a human being. He could have ended the film with the speech, all on a very grand note, giving the world the impression that the speech had really changed everything in America. Instead, he ended it with a sequence of people going home, falling asleep on the bus. He wanted to emphasize the fact that although the march had been impressive, it did not eliminate bigotry in the United States. Pointing out these contradictions was typical of James' filmmaking style. For that reason, it is hard to believe that he made films for the agency for eight years. But Edward R. Murrow, head of the In formation Agency, and George Stevens, Jr., head of the film division, both agreed that even propaganda should contain a certain element of honesty. The next James Blue film, A Few Notes On Our Food Problem, was also controversial. This film explored world hunger, using desire as a theme. James viewed human desire as a very dignified thing. He had a scene in the film of shanty towns on the hillsides of Rio de Janeiro. Instead of conveying a message of abject poverty, he explored the fact that all these people had come flooding in from the farms because they desired a better life, and hoped to find that in the city. The film portrayed traditional life as worthwhile and noble, not as something standing in the way of change, American- style. For instance, he showed how long it takes Indian women from early school days to adulthood to learn and perfect the traditional dance forms. One scene in a research camp showed the similarities between tradition and science. A man tests a soil sample in a process that's as ritualistic as learning the dance. The lab scientist takes one sample of soil and runs it through a solution and patiently repeats the process over a period of days. He tried to show that a culture's native traditions can be successfully integrated with useful technologies introduced by other cultures. In Houston, James felt he belonged in a community, making films about ordinary problems and ordinary people. He would say, "You're upset? Take a Super 8 camera. Go out and do something about it." And people did. The ACLU was very upset about the conditions in the jails. It was simple. Here's a camera, go do it. Some people from the Coalition for Barrier-Free Living came to us, upset about the bus routes and felt they weren't getting a fair deal. "Here's a camera, here's how to use it, now go do it." In 1977, he got the chance to make his first Super 8 film with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. He began a film on Houston's Fourth Ward on the edge of downtown Houston. It seemed to have been left to deteriorate and James' film wanted to take a look at the elements responsible. He presented himself as an ordinary person, pleased with the growth of the city, but troubled by this one neighborhood. People said, "God, the guy is so subjective. It's not really a documentary." But he didn't want to have documentary authority. He wanted to be the simple voice of one person disturbed about what was going on in his city. We didn't do any advance research for Fourth Ward. One day all of us got up and said, "Let's start the film." We loaded the equipment in the van and went to the Fourth Ward. We talked to people on the street and started there. One man said," There's a lot going on in the neighborhood, but nobody is listening." Well, James was listening. We talked to the people who were affecting life in the Fourth Ward, like the business sector, the mayor and the city government. We moved over to the city, and the city said they couldn't do anything to help because business wouldn't help. We went to the business community and they said they couldn't do anything without the city's help. Then, we took all the footage and showed it to the people in the Fourth Ward. They said, "How come the mayor said he's not going to do anything about this. Bring him down here." We went back to then Mayor Fred Hofheinz and he went and told the people why he couldn't do anything. They got all upset and were going to march on City Hall. We went there to film, but only a few ministers showed up. The film ended on a negative note and some people were really upset about that. But it ended with what we had discovered: that no one was prepared to do anything about the problem of the deterioration of the Fourth Ward and the possible displacement of its residents. James' next film The Invisible City dealt with Houston's housing crises (see Breakthrough September 1979). His two Houston films got absorbed in a funny way. It's almost as though they happened and nobody noticed. The people in the films didn't notice what he was doing. The people who did notice were his students. There were about 20 people in this town whose lives he totally changed and who will never be the same. These people were his children. I, for one, do everything according to what James had in mind. At the University of Houston at Clear Lake City, my students seem to get the hang of it, but I try to warn them, in a way that James didn't warn me, that this is a spectacular thing and they may not be able to make a living this way. But, nevertheless, these ideas and the film experience may have some meaning for their lives somewhere. I spent a few days with James the last week he was alive. At one point he let me know he was dying. I couldn't say anything. There was a pause and he said, "Well, I guess we all know what we have to do now." I think he meant that all of us that worked here with James, all those "children" that learned from him, it's up to us now to continue the work he started. HOUSTON BREAKTHROUGH JULY/AUGUST 27