Documentary filmmaker St.Clair Bourne, known for his portraits of prominent African-Americans, died of a pulmonary embolism in New York on Dec. 15. He was 64.
A producer, director, writer, and owner of the production company ChambaMedia in Brooklyn, Bourne made more than 44 films. Among his subjects were singer, actor, and activist Paul Robeson; poet, novelist and playwright Langston Hughes, and writer / activist Amiri Baraka.
“Black men who define themselves from an Afrocentric point of view fascinate me — how they succeeded and overcame opposition,” said Bourne.
His most recent film was “Half Past Autumn: The Life And Works Of Gordon Parks,” produced with Denzel Washington and narrated by Alfre Woodard for HBO. He also produced “Making ‘Do The Right Thing,'” the 1989 narrative documentary about the making of Spike Lee’s controversial feature.
His other credits include “John Henrik Clarke: A Great and Mighty Walk,” about an author and leader of the Pan-Africanist movement and “The Black and the Green,” about a group of American civil rights activists who travel to Northern Ireland, finding that Catholics there were influenced by the civil rights movement.
Bourne was also a mentor and teacher, teaching film courses at Cornell and CCNY-Queens College and serving as guest lecturer at UCLA’s Film Department and Yale University. He established the New York-based Black Documentary Collectiveas well as the L.A.-based Black Association of Documentary Filmmakers.
“I first met Saint in the late 70s, during the heyday of independent film in this city. He had an indelible effect upon me. His intensity and keen perceptions were tempered by his compassion for others, his dedication to the principles of fair-play and his uncanny ability to let the story tell itself,” said Roni Wheeler, Chair of the PGA East Diversity Committee.
Born in Harlem he was raised in New York. In the early 1960s, hejoined the Peace Corps and went to Peru, where he started a newspaper. After graduating from Syracuse U. with a B.A. in journalism and political science, he returned to New York to pursue a masters in filmmaking at Columbia U. But in 1968, he was arrested and expelled after participating in the takeover of a university building in protest of the Vietnam War.
Nonetheless, a professor recommended him for a job as an associate producer on “Black Journal,” the first African-American public affairs series on television. He rose to become a producer for the program, which won an Emmy for magazine series.
Prior to his death, he was pursuing two projects, “The Black Panther Party Of Self-Defense,” and “Islam & African-America.”
He is survived by a sister.