July 12, 2012

George Stoney, Pioneer Filmmaker and Educator, Dies at 96

George C. Stoney, whose unparalleled influence as a filmmaker, media activist and educator spanned seven decades, died July 12 in his home in New York City at age 96.

Stoney was born in 1916. According to a Wikipedia entry, he studied English and history at the University of North Carolina and Balliol College at Oxford University, and received a Film in Education Certificate from the
University of London. He worked as an information officer for the Farm Security Administration and as a photo intelligence officer for the US Air Force during World War II.  His first professional foray into filmmaking came after the war, when he joined the Southern Educational Film Service as a writer and director.

Stoney launched his own production company in 1950, and one of his early works, All My Babies: A Midwife's Own Story, about an African-American midwife, received numerous awards and was named to the National Film registry in 2002. He supplemented his filmmaking by teaching--at Columbia University, City College of New York and Stanford University-but his true academic home over the last 42 years was New York University, where he was a professor of film and cinema studies.

In 1968, Stoney moved to Canada, where, for the next two years, he headed the Challenge for Change project, an initiative of the National Film Board of Canada designed to foster social change through film and video. He returned to the US in 1970 to lead NYU's undergraduate film department, and in 1972, inspired by the idea of community media that was intrinsic to the success of Challenge for Change, co-founded the Alternate Media Center, which pioneered the use of video for public access television and helped train aspiring filmmakers in this new medium. His groundbreaking innovations in this field helped inspire the George Stoney Award, presented each year by the Alliance for Community
Media "to an organization or individual who has made an outstanding contribution to championing the growth and experience of humanistic community communications."

George Stoney was honored in 1998 with the IDA Preservation & Scholarship Award; Erik Barnouw, the late great scholar of documentary, presented him with the award. He continued to teach and make films up to his death. Among the 50 documentaries he made over his illustrious career, one of the many standouts was The Uprising of '34, which he made with Judith Helfand and Susanne
Rostock.  Helfand, one of his students at NYU, shared this remembrance of Stoney on her Facebook
; here's an excerpt:

 "I took this picture on Wednesday night in Chicago to toast my beloved mentor, friend,
collaborator and teacher, George Stoney--as he made his journey. He was still with us then... surrounded by the most loving, deeply respectful and perfect team of beloved ones who were keen to help him let his spirit soar. He showed us how to make movies with meaning, how to use them wisely and boldly, how to
live each breath and use each one in a meaningful way."

For an article by Tamara Krinsky, from the Winter 2011 Documentary magazine, by Stoney on the occasion of his 40 years at NYU, click here.

Watch an interview with Stoney from P.O.V.'s Behind the Lens.