Harvard University recently announced the creation of the Black Film Project, which is designed to support filmmakers of any race who illuminate Black history and culture through nonfiction films.
The project, founded by Henry Louis Gates Jr., director of the Hutchins Center for African & African American Research, will be housed at the Hutchins Center in partnership with Harvard’s Department of Art, Film, and Visual Studies.
“I conceived of the Black Film Project as a way of contributing to the growing momentum of filmmaking about the Black experience, and as a way of honoring the field that has given me my second career,” said Gates, who is also the executive producer, host, and writer of the four-part docu-series “Making Black America,” in a press release. “We want the Black Film Project to identify, celebrate, and seed the work of talented artists of any ethnicity and, in doing so, to create an environment in which this renaissance can continue for many years to come.”
Jacqueline Glover, former head of documentary programming for Onyx Collective and ABC News and previous senior vice president of HBO Documentary Films, has been appointed the project’s executive director.
Gates and Glover’s working relationship began nearly 20 years ago, when Gates was brought in as a consultant for “Unchained Memories: Readings from the Slave Narratives,” a documentary Glover was producing. They both later served as executive producers on another documentary, “Black Art: in the Absence of Light.”
The Black Film Project has established two prizes, meant to be “finishing funds,” according to Glover. Each is meant to support filmmakers in the completion of their projects, in partnership with the Smithsonian Institute. The inspiration for the prizes, she said, came directly from The Library of Congress Lavine/Ken Burns Prize for Film award, which is a grant presented annually to filmmakers creating independent documentaries.
Named for the filmmaker of the docu-series “Eyes on the Prize,” the Henry Hampton Prize for Documentary Filmmaking on Black History and Culture will support makers of full-length documentaries exploring stories and histories about Black Americans, Africans, or Afro-Latin Americans. It will award $200,000 annually to a first-place winner.
“Part of [Gates’s] legacy as a filmmaker is really to expand the field of filmmakers who tell Black stories on the screen,” Glover said. “The Black Film Project is really an homage to his dear friend Henry Hampton, who passed away.”
Gates toured Hampton’s production company, Blackside Inc., a number of years ago and “was completely inspired to make documentaries and to expand his scholarly work and become a filmmaker to tell stories that he felt were important,” she said.
The second award, the Baldwin Richardson Foods Prize, funded by philanthropist Eric G. Johnson, will grant a second-place filmmaker of any genre a $50,000 prize to finish their project. An internal review committee and national jury, selected by Harvard and the Smithsonian, will select the recipients of both prizes.
“When we say Black stories, we’re really talking about all kinds of Black stories, including outside of this country,” Glover said in an interview. “Certainly Black history in America is a focus, but it’s not the only area that we are interested in. It really can be from anywhere in the world.”
Additionally, the Black Film Project will support three annual paid fellowships as part of the Hutchins Center’s W.E.B. Du Bois Research Institute Fellowship Program. The three fellows will make use of Harvard’s extensive research and filmmaking resources through joint appointments in its department of Art, Film, and Visual Studies and Film Studies Center. They will also visit with Harvard classes, meet with faculty and students, present their films to the public, and connect with Boston and New York exhibition opportunities.