Tuesday, May 8, 2018 at 7:30pm
From the Collection of Pearl Bowser

155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn

Curated by Ina Archer

A pillar of film culture since the 1960s, Pearl Bowser has supported and promoted African American cinema through a wide variety of roles—programmer, distributor, producer, director, historian, educator. Beginning in the early 70s, her research into the work of Oscar Micheaux and other pioneering black directors proved instrumental in reviving interest in the all-but-forgotten “race films” of the silent and early sound era; as a key element of this decades-long project, Bowser sought out and rescued many of the surviving prints of work by Micheaux and other auteurs, laying the groundwork for later scholarship and preservation efforts. Out of this project, she would eventually produce several books on Micheaux as well as co-direct Midnight Ramble (1994), a feature-length documentary on his career.

Bowser was also a key participant in black independent film’s renaissance, working closely with early African American current-affairs television series like NET’s Black Journal and ABC’s Like It Is, curating and touring film series for Third World Newsreel, programming screenings for the Jewish Museum, and developing workshops and courses on black and Third World cinema at a time when there was little precedent for any formal study of these histories.

For Bowser, however, her efforts were never meant as purely academic or cinephile; she has always understood her work as a form of activism. In a 2001 interview by Alexandra Juhasz, Bowser tells a story about running a film discussion group at a halfway house for black teenagers, using prints from her personal collection. What had begun under the rubric of a mere social activity quickly evolved into a forum for young audience members to discuss black history and contemporary concerns. “At the time I did not think of what I was doing as a career,” Bowser explained. “But I realized that when you do something in a public space, in a community where you’re involved in attempting to share the history, you become something...you become a key or kernel from which people can be challenged, from which they can build other things, or from which they can see possibilities.”

In 2012, Bowser donated her unparalleled collection of film prints, videotape, ephemera, and oral histories to the Smithsonian, where they became the core media holdings of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. For tonight’s presentation, Ina Archer, media preservationist at NMAAHC, has selected a program of deep cuts from the Bowser collection that focuses on the close-knit circle of New York filmmakers of which she was a motivating part, as well as her greater commitment to film as a means of collaboration and youth empowerment.

Bowser made sure throughout her career to save ostensibly marginal films: not only nonfiction short subjects, but bits of television reportage, editing exercises, sample reels, animation, and even trims from larger productions. Many of these materials allow us a unique view into how life was lived in neighborhoods like Brownsville, Bedford-Stuyvesant, Gowanus, and Red Hook. But beyond their historical value, these odds and ends also preserve the creative work of figures like animator Henry Fernandes, editor Hortense “Tee” Beveridge, and directors Kathleen Collins, William Greaves, Charles Hobson, Stan Lathan, and Bowser herself. Considered as a whole, Bowser’s collection is a testament to cinema as a form of collective political engagement. “I have the feeling that many people who were part of that era and who were making films were driven by the need to document their struggle and to tell their own stories,” she recalled. “The camera was simply a tool, perhaps even a weapon, in the struggle.”

“Soul Food for Christmas,” from Like It Is, c. late 1960s, 6 mins
Program outtakes showcasing cooking lessons with Pearl Bowser.

Editing exercises, Hortense “Tee” Beveridge, c. 1960s, 3 mins
Sample reel: Morris, Hortense “Tee” Beveridge, c. 1960s, 9 mins
A reel highlighting Beveridge’s montage techniques is paired here with an experimental narrative made with members of the Brownsville Youth Center.

Right On!, Henry Fernandes, c. 1970s, 2 mins
Selections from the demo reel of animator Henry Fernandes, who wrote, designed and produced spots for Sesame Street and The Electric Company during their heyday.

Bedford-Stuyvesant Youth In Action, 1965, 6 mins
Shot by an unknown cinematographer as part of workshops held by Hortense “Tee” Beveridge, this silent footage records an event held by community outreach organization Bedford-Stuyvesant Youth In Action, Inc., featuring an art exhibition and fashion show on a residential street in the neighborhood.

Statues Hardly Ever Smile, Stan Lathan, 1971, 20 mins
Produced by St. Clair Bourne’s Chamba Productions, this film documents a program to bring children from the local community into the Brooklyn Museum to create performance art.

It’s the Same Old Game, Charles Hobson, 1971, 23 mins
A film on urban studies made to encourage local participation in the city planning process, showing examples of poor urban development in Carroll Gardens and Red Hook. Written by Leroy Bowser and produced by Chambra Productions and the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Karate B Roll from Black Journal, William Greaves, 1970, 5 mins
Segment from the NET-produced program showing martial arts instructors teaching a class while a small jazz band plays. With karate master Ron Taganashi.

The Guest, Pearl Bowser, 1977, 5 mins
A woman reveals her inner thoughts as she performs various domestic tasks around the bedroom. With Starletta DuPois.

Tickets - $8, available at door.

Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.