- Virtual Toasts: Birthday Greetings and Other Salutations
Click for larger view
View full resolution
The following are a series of contributions to this Festschrift from a wide collection of friends, colleagues, and students of Erik Barnouw. We call them “virtual toasts,” imagining we are gathered together at Erik’s birthday banquet, offering toasts, reminiscences, and thanks to our guest of honor.
It’s a wonderful thing to know someone who is truly wise, as Erik Barnouw is, and even more wonderful when that wisdom comes in so genially unpretentious a package.
His tales of the early years of Flaherty Film Seminars, told to people from another era at the vastly different events that those seminars have become, have never had a tint of rose-colored nostalgia, while at the same time they compellingly recall the great social promise of documentary film. His insights on today’s filmic shenanigans maintain the same equanimity and generosity. His participation at Flaherty, like his participation in other conferences, festivals, and events that have subtly shaped our networks of social action, has bridged our gaps of aesthetic-historical amnesia gracefully; his stories have been told in a spirit of possibility.
In the same way, his histories of film and television have been more than authoritative records of movements and experiments in modern mass communication. They have given us, as students, colleagues, researchers, and journalists, large narratives that frame the passions and patterns of a time within an exemplary humanism.
We stand in his debt, and he doesn’t even want to collect.
Pat Aufderheide is a Professor in the School of Communication at American University [End Page 177]
In 1994 Eric Barnouw programmed the Fortieth Anniversary Robert Flaherty Film Seminar. As International Film Seminar’s (IFS) first president from 1960 to 1968 and a legendary documentary historian, his participation generated great excitement. Erik’s classic book, Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film, had served as a constant guide since college, drawing me into the field of independent media. 1994 was my last year as Executive Director of IFS; I was stepping down after six years.
As documentary form receives widespread attention today, it is easy to forget that this was not always so. In prior decades, Erik was a lonely trailblazer bringing recognition to this field. Born in 1908, Erik’s life experiences span the century—yet Erik always remains young, flexible, and resourceful. At the 1994 Flaherty Seminar in upstate New York, Erik provided a much-needed diplomatic role when the young renegade video artists and the older film afficionados were at odds over issues of representation.
Erik’s life personifies “six degrees of separation” in independent media, where people are passionate about improving the world through storytelling and communication. Erik joins people together. During my second year as Executive Director of IFS in 1990, Erik co-programmed the Flaherty Seminar in Riga, Latvia, during the height of perestroika in the former Soviet Union. It was the first Flaherty Seminar in Eastern Europe. Besides discussing Vertov, Flaherty, and new documentaries from the East and West, our Latvian hosts tutored us in the wordy art of toasting, which subsequently evolved into a Flaherty Seminar tradition.
The Seminar’s traditional closing night banquet is palpably warm and oddly nostalgic, as new-found compatriots who have come together intensely must part after only a...