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Nka•145 Journal of Contemporary African Art 144•Nka S t. Clair Bourne was a wonderful, importantly prolific black documentary filmmaker of more than forty films and a mentor to many black filmmakers such as me, Sam Pollard, and Thomas Allen Harris. It was a role he took on because he had been generously mentored by William Greaves (the “dean of black documentarians”) at WNET’s Black Journal in the late 1960s. As an artist, he was deeply influenced by the Black Power/Black Consciousness and Pan-Africanist movements and saw his work as being the documentary -film arm of those movements. You could not be near St. Clair without being infused with their values. For decades, St. Clair’s productions were nurturing grounds for younger filmmakers and crew people. He cultivated a network of black production people and worked closely with other people of color. There was hardly a region or even country where “Saint” did not know of a “blood” working in film. Saint was a self-described “cat from the sixties” who was funny, charismatic, and brilliant. Saint spoke of “woofing” people, and of “exposing scamsters .” Tall and striking, Saint loved music, especially black music, and he spoke with the rhythmic cadences of a jazz musician. He was a sharp dresser who favored Nehru suits. I was lucky enough to have known Saint since I was ten years old. By then he was a young producer at Black Journal, about fifteen years my senior. He was a friend of my mom, Joan Sandler, who was a trailblazer in her own right, one of the first black arts administrators in those years. I thought Saint was a cool grown-up and we talked about music BRIGHT MOMENTS The Life and Work of ST. CLAIR BOURNE Kathe Sandler Promotional photo. Courtesy of Kathe Sandler. Cover photo for spring 2008 issue of Black Camera. Courtesy of Black Film Center/Archive, Indiana University. Photo: Chester Higgins Jr./ 9_sandler:nka_book_size 2/28/10 6:32 PM Page 144 The Black and the Green (1983), in which African American activists meet the IRA in Northern Ireland . The film examines parallels between Northern Irish Catholics and American blacks. Bourne also released Making “Do the Right Thing,” a feature -length documentary that explores the making of Spike Lee’s film by that name. Making “Do the Right Thing” received national theatrical distribution through First Run Features, an unusual feat for a documentary film. A lesser-known, but perhaps equally important aspect of Saint’s career was his consistent mentoring and nurturing of others. His productions became schools for people of color, training grounds where many an emerging filmmaker, producer, editor , or writer received their starts, or a significant nudge toward a career in filmmaking. I had the great fortune to work as production office coordinator for Saint on In Motion: Amiri Baraka in 1981. From that day forward Saint became my mentor. After wrapping In Motion, Saint helped me navigate a difficult situation. A major public television station proposed to purchase and air my first documentary film, Remembering Thelma, on the late dancer, teacher, and mentor Thelma Hill. But a sleazy producer hired to package black history programs tried to steal my film and mine the program’s personal testimonies, archival footage, and still photos. This producer planned to repackage the film and name himself as the filmmaker. St. Clair gave me million-dollar advice and a blueprint for protecting my work: “Remember not to take any sh__ from this cat. He thinks because you are a young black woman you are supposed to be grateful, but don’t let him scam you. Stand up to him. Send a letter absolutely revoking your work from what he is doing. Don’t let him put anything over on you.” Though it was twenty-seven years ago, I am almost entirely sure these are the words he used, because he continued to give me this kind of direct advice through most of my career. I benefited so much from being in St. Clair’s sphere; by 1983 he became the executive producer of my one-hour documentary film A Question of Color, which concerns attitudes...


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