Amos Vogel Program 5: The Social Cinema in America, 1967
Cinema 16 came to a close in 1963. That same year Vogel co-founded the New York Film Festival with Richard Roud, and, as the head of Lincoln Center’s film department, laid the groundwork for the FLC of today. For our tribute, we’ll be highlighting a number of works that were presented during Vogel’s tenure at the festival, each of which reflects, in different ways, his long-standing preoccupations as a programmer.
The Amos Vogel Centenary Retrospective is sponsored by:
The New York Film Festival, 1963-1968
The Social Cinema in America, 1967
The Fifth New York Film Festival featured a sidebar on “The Social Cinema in America,” which surveyed the new directions of documentary filmmaking, with an emphasis on cinema verité and the possibilities opened up by more portable recording equipment (the program introduced New York audiences to now-classic works like Peter Adair’s Holy Ghost People, Allan King’s Warrendale, and Frederick Wiseman’s Titticut Follies). One screening, reprised here, brought together Lebert Bethune’s Malcolm X: Struggle for Freedom, Santiago Álvarez’s Now, and David Neuman and Ed Pincus’s Black Natchez.
Malcolm X: Struggle for Freedom
Lebert Bethune, 1964, France, 22m
Bethune, a Jamaican filmmaker who had become a notable figure within Paris’s Black expatriate milieu, created a remarkable portrait of a political icon, and his film features some of the very last interviews with Malcolm X, recorded during his travels in Europe and Africa mere months prior to his assassination.
Santiago Álvarez, 1965, Cuba, 35mm, 6m
A brief but incendiary dispatch from postrevolutionary Cuba, Now blasts forth as a machine-gun montage of violent imagery from the American civil rights era while Lena Horne provides a soaring soundtrack with her titular protest anthem, sung to the tune of “Hava Nagila.”
David Neuman and Ed Pincus, 1967, USA, 64m
In Black Natchez, we encounter the struggle for freedom again, though articulated in a different form. “The advent of portable sync-sound equipment in the early ’60s meant, for the first time in the sound era, that filmmakers could go to the subject as opposed to bringing the subject to the camera,” Pincus would later explain. “The ability to take a camera out into the world created the desire to ‘get it right,’ to film the world independent of the act of filmmaking. In the U.S., all sorts of rules were being created in documentary film—no script, no narration, no interviews, no lighting, no mic boom, no collusion between subject and filmmaker.
In 1965, the second year of intense voter registration drives in Mississippi, we decided to make a film in the southwest corner of the state. Little civil rights work had been done there because of the danger in the region. Our approach was to seek out several story lines and then continue with the most interesting. A car bombing of a civil rights leader while we were there changed everything. The event emphasized the rifts in the Black community around the demands for equality. Rifts between teenagers and women on one hand and the Black business community on the other. Rifts between Black males forming armed protection groups and the call for nonviolence by the major civil rights groups. And rifts between grassroots organizations and more traditional leadership organizations such as the FDP (Freedom Democratic Party) and the NAACP.”
New digitization courtesy of Ed Pincus Film Collection, Amistad Research Center, Tulane University, New Orleans, Louisiana. Digitization was supported by a Digitizing Hidden Collections grant from the Council on Library and Information Resources (CLIR). The grant program is made possible by funding from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.