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Remembrance: Eric Barnouw

By Betsy McLane

It was less than a year ago, in October 2000, when I last met with Erik Barnouw, and I treasure the image of his gracious intellect that I saw on that brilliant autumn day. On the common in Fair Haven, Vermont, in the home he shared with his wife Betty, Eric was relaxed, happy, aware, attentive and most importantly, full of information and enthusiasm for the project I brought to him.

Betty, the vital pivot in the balance between Eric and the world in his later years was (and is) a supremely gifted woman. She somehow made everything work. We lunched heartily on a salad of her organic lettuces from the garden and home-made seafood chowder. Their modest, comfortable home is an amalgam of their two lives. Betty lived in it with her first husband, the main banker in Fair Haven, whose gun collection still graces the walls; Erik was quick to point out that the guns were not his own. The decor that he contributed includes some of the many fine drawings he created over the years. The Barnouw Christmas card was each year an eagerly awaited new drawing by Erik, and one of his best contributions to IDA was designing the beautiful Pare Lorentz Award.

I knew Erik, of course, from his scholarly work. My copy of Documentary: A History of the Non-Fiction Film is a well-worn and marked 1980 edition, always on a nearby shelf since film school. He and Betty and I also worked together on International Documentary Congress gatherings and as members of the Advisory Board of the Hot Springs Documentary Film Festival. Into his 90s, Eric was avidly involved in our documentary culture, spending time in the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences/IDA film archive and taking his Hiroshima film to new audiences in Arkansas.

He was also open to my proposal -- bold as it may have seemed -- to write a second, companion volume to Documentary, covering documentary history from 1970 to the present. His book has never been out of print -- a tribute to its immense value and Oxford’s foresight in commissioning it. Erik was more receptive and enthusiastic than I could have hoped: He wrote the most wonderful letter to Oxford commending the new book and me to them. I have only begun to follow up on what is a very challenging task. I intend to write this book, not least because Erik believed it was much needed, and I hope the work will ultimately be worthy of his support.


Betsy A. McLane, PhD
IDA Director Emeritus