A Complexion Change
Transnational & Intercultural Diplomacy
An International Media Project (UNESCO)

XXVIII. Black International Cinema Berlin
"Future Blossoms" / "Blüten der Zukunft"

May 8-12

"Footprints in the Sand?" Exhibition
"...Visions Become Reality..." / "...Visionen Werden Wirklichkeit..."

July 1-August 31


Venue: Rathaus Schöneberg (city hall), John-F.-Kennedy-Platz, 10825 Berlin/Germany


William Greaves
William Greaves, Director/Producer/Writer


A few notes on the career of pioneering filmmaker William Greaves
For the XXVIII Black International Cinema film festival, Berlin 2013
By Louise Archambault Greaves

First of all, I would like to express my husband's deep appreciation for the recognition that his work is receiving at the XXVIII Black international Cinema film festival. He would have happily and more graciously done so himself if his health had permitted it. Unfortunately that is not the case. What I do know and can say with absolute certainty is that this recognition from the Black International Cinema means a great deal to him. Of course, I cannot speak for my husband but I hope you will allow me to share a few personal thoughts about him and his nearly six-decade long film career.

But where do I begin? As I look back on more than fifty years of marriage, a considerable number of those years working alongside my husband, I find myself in an interesting dilemma. How does one choose among the hundreds of stories would be of most interest to BIC festival aficionados. I wasn't sure.

However, as I began to think more deeply about the Black International Cinema and its mission, it occurred to me that I had missed a couple of obvious connections; first that BIC's mission was in many ways similar, if not identical to, the one that had motivated my husband's filmmaking career, and secondly that, among other things, the program was meant to offer audiences the opportunity to consider how the extraordinary explosion of Black film that is taking place around the world today might relate to the beginnings of this development at least within the context of this particular filmmaker's work. The fact is that back in the early fifties when my husband decided to get behind the camera and make films that came out of the Black experience, not only in America but around the world, no one could have foreseen the development that is taking place with Black film today, nor could they in their wildest imagination, have envisioned the existence of a Black International Cinema. In fact, I am sure some of my husband's friends and colleagues must have questioned his sanity. He had a successful career as an actor on Broadway and movies. Why waste perfectly good talent trying to make movies? As things turned out, he was prescient. True, it took more than a decade and he did have to leave the country but by the early sixties with the Civil Rights Movement picking up momentum, he was back home, and with the experience and skills he had picked up at the National Film Board of Canada, he was in a unique position to tell the story of the African people in America and around the world.

What I find especially interesting about my husband's decision to make movies are the motivations for his career path change. It was more than a decade before the Civil Rights revolution, McCarthyism was on the rise, and whatever progress had come out of the Second World War and the fight against ideas of racial supremacy seemed to be fading. Ultimately his decision was based on a belief that film could be a catalyst for change. Upon reflection, this conviction had to be based on an even more fundamental belief: That human beings tend to gravitate towards the truth and that truth has an impact on behavior. Just as interesting, perhaps, is the fact that he felt he had whatever it might take to make the kinds of films that would move people to change. An optimist? Without a doubt! In any event, he did not become a filmmaker simply because he enjoyed making films (which he certainly did). For him, film was first and foremost a tool that could be used to challenge -- and ultimately to change -- a system that was not only unjust but patently out of line with professed American democratic ideals, one that for any person of African descent living in America at that time, must have been unbearably painful. When asked why he made movies, his answer was "To raise consciousness."

What produced such an independent, highly motivated and creative individual is another fascinating part of my husband's story. It probably deserves a book in itself. He had the good fortune to have been exposed early to many different influences and to have had the guidance of several mentors within both the African American and the white majority cultures. Like many African Americans he could be considered bi-cultural. In his case, it might be more accurate to say that he was trans-cultural. Since his films can and do reach across racial boundaries, I consider this an important aspect of his work. In fact, he consciously intended his films to reach a broad national and even international audience. But the factors that seem to have most profoundly influenced him and his view of the world have come from a series of fortuitous circumstances. The fact that he was born and raised in Harlem during the height of the Renaissance is crucial to understanding who he is. When asked where he came from, he would say, "You're looking at a Harlem boy." He came from a large West Indian immigrant family and grew up in a highly supportive environment. Many older members of the community seemed to have recognized his potential and passed on the history and legacy of African American culture to him. And later, as a young actor featured on Broadway and in movies, a dancer with the Pearl Primus African dance troupe and with Osadata Dafora, and writing songs (African Lullaby and over one hundred other songs), he came into contact with and was exposed to the ideas of some of the most forward thinking and creative people in the fields of acting, theater, dance, and film: People like Lee Strasberg and Elia Kazan at the Actors Studio, Lajos Egri (The Art of Dramatic Writing), J.L. Moreno (the founder of Psychodrama) and Professor William Leo Hansberry, the premier scholar of ancient African history, to mention a few. Perhaps the ideas that most influenced his thinking came from the writings of the Indian philosopher, poet, and mystic Sri Aurobindo.

It's interesting to note that the first opportunity he was given to make films independently came from none other than the United States Information Service. The First World Festival of Negro Arts (1966) which is being shown here at BIC XXVIII was the second of three films he made for USIS. It was originally conceived of as a short magazine format piece but the plane taking him to Dakar had barely landed when he recognized the significance of the event that was taking place there and persuaded the agency to send more film stock. They did. The entire crew consisted of two people: William Greaves and Georges Bracher, both shooting cinema verite with 16mm cameras and B&W film stock. There were no lights. The chauffeur was drafted to record sound. The Europeans - the British, French, and Italians as well as the Soviets had sent large production crews to Dakar to cover the festival but ultimately William's film was chosen as the official document of the festival. And for several years it was the most popular USIS film in Africa.

The Malcolm X documentary which is being shown in the festival came later. It was produced for Black Journal, the first, and to this day the only, nationally broadcast television series produced by Blacks about Blacks. The Black Journal series won an Emmy in 1969 for best news magazine programming. William was executive producer and (with Lou House) co-hosted the series for two years. The piece on Malcolm X was produced and directed by Madelaine Anderson, one of several young filmmakers who came out of the Black Journal Film School.

The other two films being screened at the festival are biographies of two of America's most important and little known African Americans, Ida B. Wells and Ralph J. Bunche. Hardly household names, yet their stories shed new light on American history. The hour long Ida B. Wells film was produced, written and directed by William for The American Experience, the highly acclaimed public television documentary series that focuses on US history. The story of this courageous woman who launched an international crusade against lynching had been totally ignored or forgotten. She is now one of the best known African American heroes. The Ralph Bunche biography is also a first, reintroducing to the American public this Nobel Peace Prize winner-the first person of color in the world to be so honored! This two hour long biography was broadcast nationally as a PBS television special, about Ralph Bunche, the U.N. Undersecretary General, who among his many legacies and accomplishments was the architect of United Nations Peacekeeping.

I hope this introduction to my husband's work at this festival here in Berlin will be of interest to the Black International "Cinemaphile." I think the four films that have been selected by the festival programmer are not only representative of some of my husband's best work, they are important historical documents in and of themselves. My only regret is that my husband and I cannot be there to share them with you.

Louise Greaves
William Greaves Productions, Inc.
New York City
May, 2013

Conversation with William Greaves and Audrey Henningham

Production & Direction: Prof. Donald Muldrow Griffith/Fountainhead® Tanz Théâtre
Documentary, Color, 60 min.
Berlin/Germany 2004

Director, producer and writer William Greaves began his career as a featured actor on Broadway and in motion pictures. His dedication, professionalism, creative and academic abilities behind and in front of the camera earned him over 60 international film festival awards, including an Emmy and four Emmy nominations. In 1980, he was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, and in the same year he was the recipient of a special "homage" at the first Black American Independent Film Festival in Paris. In 1986, he received an "Indy" - the special Life Achievement Award - from the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers.

For two years, Greaves served as executive producer and co-host of the pioneering network television series Black Journal, for which he was awarded an Emmy.

Regisseur, Produzent und Autor William Greaves begann seine berufliche Karriere als Hauptdarsteller am Broadway und in Spielfilmen. Seine Hingabe, Professionalität sowie kreativen und akademischen Fähigkeiten hinter und vor der Kamera trugen ihm über 60 internationale Filmfestivalpreise ein, sowie einen Emmy und vier Emmy-Nominierungen. Im Jahr 1980 wurde er in die Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame aufgenommen und war im selben Jahr Empfänger einer besonderen "Hommage" auf dem ersten Black American Independent Film Festival in Paris. 1986 erhielt er den "Indy" - die besondere Auszeichnung für das Lebenswerk - von der Vereinigung Unabhängiger Video- und Filmemacher.

Zwei Jahre lang war Greaves geschäftsführender Produzent und Ko-Moderator der wegbereitenden Fernsehreihe Black Journal im US-amerikanischen Sendenetz, für die er mit einem Emmy ausgezeichnet wurde.


William Greaves
William Greaves (center right), Executive Producer/Co-Host, "Black Journal" Television Series

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