He has been called the dean of American documentary filmmakers, the Johnny Appleseed of documentary, and the father of public access television. His career spans more than 70 years as a filmmaker, educator, and social activist. And at the age of 94 he continues to make films of social relevance. This remarkable man is NYU’s George C. Stoney, who was recently appointed Emeritus Professor in the Tisch School of the Art’s Undergraduate Film division at the Kanbar Institute of Film & Television.
On Nov. 4, Stoney will be honored by his colleagues and friends for a lifetime of achievement and his 40-year tenure at the University with a special reception at NYU’s Torch Club. The event is by invitation only and is not open to the public.
“We are so honored to be able to recognize George Stoney’s legendary career,” said Mary Schmidt Campbell, dean of the Tisch School of the Arts. “His extraordinary contributions not only to the world of film but to our knowledge of some of the burning issues that have confronted our fellow citizens over the years have earned him a universally celebrated reputation as an outstanding documentary filmmaker.
“Moreover, the outpouring of support from his colleagues in the undergraduate division of the Kanbar Institute on his Emeritus appointment is a testament to his vital role in the department for so many decades. We would not be the stellar program we are today without his participation.”
Affectionately referred to by students as “George,” he continues to teach his famous Documentary Traditions class, through which thousands of students have passed over the years. In 1970, Stoney was asked to head up the undergraduate film department at NYU’s School of the Arts. Soon after joining NYU, he also co-founded the Alternate Media Center, which pioneered the use of video for public access cable in New York City, and was instrumental in helping to prompt the spread of public access requirements nationally. He remains involved to this day with the organization, which has since been renamed the Alliance for Community Media.
Stoney has over one hundred films to his credit. Some of the most important ones include: All My Babies (1953), How the Myth Was Made (1978), Southern Voices (1985), How One Painter Sees (1988), Images of The Great Depression (1990), and The Uprising of’34 (1995). His latest film, Paulo and George, A Look at Freire’s Life and Ideas, which is an examination of the Brazilian educator and author Paulo Freire, is in post production. It will be screened for the first time on Nov. 5 at the Tisch School.
NYUs Avery Fisher Center in the Bobst Library will join in marking Stoney’s pioneering documentary career with a retrospective screening of some of his films in November. Stoney will attend each screening and presenters will introduce each set of films. The screenings will take place in the Avery Room beginning at 7 p.m. Screening dates are: Nov. 3, 9, 10, 16, & 17. Clip reels will also play in an adjacent Reserve Viewing area at the same time. Films scheduled include: Walk with Me, The Newcomers, How One Painter Sees, The Invaders, Still Going Places, A New Wind, and Shepard of the Night Flock, among others. The AFC screenings are open to Bobst Library patrons with I.D. For more detailed information, visit http://nyu.libguides.com/stoney.
In 1938, after receiving his undergraduate degree in journalism at the University of North Carolina, Stoney began his career in writing as well as his commitment to social values and racial justice. From 1942 to 1945, he saw service in Europe with the U.S. Air Force as a photo intelligence officer. In 1946, he joined the Southern Educational Film Production Service writing, directing, and producing films. Later he formed his own company specializing in socially relevant films.
Stoney’s landmark film All My Babies: A Midwife’s Own Story (1953), a sensitive film on the training of black midwives in Georgia, would place him at the forefront of American documentary film where he has remained for over sixty years. Stoney has said he considers All My Babies “the best film I ever made.” The film would eventually be seen by health care providers in more than a dozen other countries. Last summer, a reunion was held of the babies delivered in the film and he was there to capture the experience with former student David Bagnall, who is now editing the sequel, A Reunion of All My Babies.
During the 1950s and 1960s, Stoney was working making films and teaching: City College, Columbia, Stanford University, and the International School of the Americas. He joined the National Film Board of Canada in 1968 as the executive producer of Challenge for Change, which promoted the idea of community media. This experience had an important impact on Stoney when he would later become an early advocate of using video as a tool for social change in the U.S.
Among his colleagues in the film industry Stoney is regarded as a collaborator extraordinaire. For the many students worldwide who have passed through his classes he is known as a gifted teacher. And for his former students he has mentored they all agree he is quick to share credit, which in numerous cases has allowed the students to launch their own careers. When asked once how he would like to be remembered, Stoney replied, “as a very happy collaborator.”