St. Clair Bourne, Harlem-born and Brooklyn-bred, was a towering figure in the documentary film world: a filmmaker, writer, activist, teacher and organizer. Bourne passed away in 2007, yet his body of work, an essential chronicle of African-American life, and influence is enough for many lifetimes. In a 36-year career in which he made more than 40 films, either producing or directing or doing both, Mr. Bourne’s works were seen on public television, commercial networks and at film festivals around the country. Among his subjects were the singer, actor and activist Paul Robeson; the poet, novelist and playwright Langston Hughes; the photojournalist and filmmaker Gordon Park; author, poet, historian, professor and a leader of the Pan-Africanist movement John Henrik Clarke; and the poet and activist Amiri Baraka.
Born: February 16, 1943 in New York City, New York, USA
Died: December 15, 2007 (age 64) in Brooklyn, New York, USA
To celebrate Black History Month 2019, we pay tribute to St. Clair Bourne’s legacy, from his early days as a producer, director and cameraman for the pioneering series Black Journal to the founding of the Black Documentary Collective (BDC) in New York and the Black Association of Documentary Filmmakers West (BADWest) in Los Angeles, and the journal Chamba Notes.
16mm motion picture of Malcolm X Liberation University [Black Journal segment]
This 16mm color film is a short documentary subject made for National Educational Television's Black Journal television program. Producer St. Clair Bourne chronicles the opening of Malcolm X Liberation University in North Carolina. It consists of: a 16mm film (a), original 400 foot film reel (b), and original 400 foot film canister (c). 2012.79.1.68.1a: The film opens with a student meeting/rally at Duke University, in which one unidentified student speaker (male) states why they longer wish to participate in a system they don't believe speaks to the needs of African American college students. A male narrator begins to speak, explaining what the Black Student Movement at Duke University was and how it originated and morphed into a separate institution. An interview with Howard Fuller begins to play, and he expresses why he doesn't believe in institutionalized black studies programs. Footage of him announcing the opening of Malcolm X Liberation University begins to play, and is followed by clips of the opening celebratory parade and rally. The narrator describes the new university's proposed curriculum and study abroad program in Africa. Howard Fuller addressed the crowd by reading a statement from Stokely Carmichael, and introduced guest speaker Betty Shabazz. During her speech, white train workers in a nearby train yard rang a train car bell to interrupt her speech. A visiting professor who was in attendance climbed on top of the train car and silenced the bell so Betty Shabazz could finish her speech. A small group of women sing "The Black Magician" onstage. Courtland Cox, a representative from Malcolm X Liberation University's sister school in Washington, DC, closed the ceremony. The film ends with an interview with Howard Fuller speaking on the role of Malcolm X Liberation University can and hopes to play in the black liberation struggle. 2012.79.1.68.1b: Original 400 foot film reel. 2012.79.1.68.1c: Original 400 foot film canister. The metal can has a sticker label from a film distribution company with the name of film.
St. Clair Bourne talks about his career as a documentary filmmaker. Interviewed by filmmaker Julie Dash (director of Daughters of the Dust). This is the last live interview with St. Clair in Los Angeles before his death.
Directed by St. Clair Bourne this riveting documentary exploring Robeson's multidimensional gifts and the high price he had to pay as a spokesperson for black liberationPaul Robeson: Here I Stand is a documentary film released in 1999 that explores the life and career of Paul Robeson, the controversial African-American athlete-actor-singer-activist. It was directed by St. Clair Bourne for the PBS series American Masters. Running for 117 minutes, the documentary features extensive footage taken from numerous interviews with both those close to Robeson, including his son, Paul Robeson Jr., some celebrities, and several scholars on African-American film and Robeson himself. Additionally, it includes footage from interviews with Robeson, along with pieces from his movies and his musical recordings. It is a very detailed documentary, covering Robeson’s life from his birth until his death.
Ossie Davis (narrator)
Paul Robeson, Jr.
David Levering Lewis
In 1983, St. Clair Bourne produced and directed one of his most rarely seen films, The Black and the Green, chronicling a fact-finding trip to Belfast made by five American civil rights activists, who found that many Catholics in Northern Ireland had been influenced by the civil rights movement in the U.S. As The Washington Post reported at the time: "In the Belfast ghetto, the delegation members are strangers in a familiar land of crushed tenements, graffiti-stained walls and heavily armed law officers". St Clair Bourne told The Post that "the film 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".
St. Clair Bourne (1943-2007) wrote, directed and produced, directed over forty-five film productions, including documentaries for HBO, PBS, NBC, BBC and National Geographic as well his own independent work. His producer credits include Half Past Autumn: The Life and Works of Gordon Park (broadcast by HBO). Director credits include John Henrik Clarke: A Great and Mighty Walk (with actor Wesley Snipes as narrator and executive producer) and Paul Robeson: Here I Stand! a two-hour documentary (for the American Masters PBS series). Before he died, St Clair Bourne was in post-production for a documentary about 86-year-old veteran photographer Ernest Withers, as well as a documentary series about the rise and fall of the Black Panther Party (for PBS). chambamedia.com
In his grand old age, John Henrik Clarke sits down and has an adult conversation with documentarian St. Clair Bourne, telling him of his life as one of the early pioneers in Black studies, and in turn, encapsulating a great deal of civil rights’ and 20th-century African American history.