St. Clair Bourne’s long overlooked documentary The Black and the Green returns with the New York premiere of MoMA’s new 4K preservation, completed in a special arrangement with the late filmmaker's sister, Judith Bourne. During his 36-year career, the Harlem-native, Brooklyn-based Bourne (1943–2007) created illuminating and at times contrarian portraits of influential African American cultural and historical figures like Gordon Parks, John Henrik Clarke, Spike Lee, Amiri Baraka, Langston Hughes, and Paul Robeson, and examined aspects of African American society that were neglected or willfully misunderstood by the mainstream. As a graduate student in 1968, Bourne was arrested and expelled from Columbia University for his involvement in the occupation of an administration building. But he soon found a way of reconciling his political activism with his journalistic and filmmaking talents by working for executive producer William Greaves as a producer, director, and cinematographer on the groundbreaking PBS public affairs series Black Journal, as part of a uniquely African American team that also included Madeline Anderson, Kent Garrett, and Lou Potter. (An episode of Black Journal is presented in this weeklong theatrical run.) In the early 1970s Bourne cofounded Chamba Mediaworks as a film production collective, and supported and mentored a great many other African American filmmakers through the creation of the Black Documentary Collective (BDC) and the journal Chamba Notes.
St. Clair Bourne was drawn to the stories that few in the white-dominated media ever told well...if at all: the life of Black churches, for example, or the role of Blacks in the opening of the American West. In The Black and the Green (1983), Bourne explored the influence of the African American civil rights movement, both in philosophy and strategy, on the fight for Catholic independence in Northern Ireland during the Troubles. Presented as a fact-finding trip to Belfast by five Black American activists (including Jean Carey Bond), where they observed Catholics living in all-too-familiar ghettos under constant surveillance and the threat of violence, the film, in Bourne’s own words, “ends up seeming pro–Irish Republican Army in the same sense that a film about Selma in the 1960s might have ended up seeming pro-Black, but then I’m a filmmaker from the ’60s. I try to be humanistically political.”
Sam Pollard (MLK/FBI, Black Art: In the Absence of Light), who edited five of Bourne’s films, recalled, on the news of Bourne’s death in 2007, that “for the last 25 years, he was one of the most important African-American nonfiction filmmakers on the scene. When I met Saint in 1980, I was a 30-year-old African-American male who grew up in New York City like he did. He reenergized and refocused what my mission should be as a filmmaker, to document the African-American experience and make people aware that it’s an important part of the American experience that can’t be denied.”
Accompanying the restoration premiere of The Black and the Green is “New-Ark” (1970), one of the episodes that Bourne directed for Black Journal, in which poet Amiri Baraka and musician Stevie Wonder take part in an African American and Puerto Rican voter registration drive and political rally for mayoral candidate Ken Gibson in Newark, New Jersey.
Organized by Joshua Siegel, Curator, Department of Film, The Museum of Modern Art, and Jake Perlin, independent curator.