November 1, 1998

Preservation & Scholarship Award: George C. Stoney

Activist and critic, teacher and mentor, producer of more than 50 films and videos, George C. Stoney has made invaluable contributions to the documentary's impact on our society since the 1930s.

After graduating from college, he joined FDR's New Deal as Southeast Regional Information Director for the Farm Security Administration (FSA), in 1940, where he focused his efforts on building public support for programs to assist sharecroppers and tenant farmers. His work included hundreds of lectures at churches, union halls and Rotary clubs, where he screened The River, the classic documentary by Pare Lorentz, who had also worked for the FSA. This experience convinced Stoney of nonfiction film's power as an instrument for social change.

During World War II, Stoney served as photo interpreter for the U.S. Air Force in England. From 1946 to 1956, he wrote, directed and edited numerous documentaries in the U.S. and England, including the classic All My Babies (1952), produced for the training of midwives in Georgia. (This hallmark film was distributed by Erik Barnouw, who was the first person to receive IDA's Preservation and Scholarship Award.) In 1956, he founded Stoney Associates, Inc., a production company which remains active today.

At the National Film Board of Canada, Stoney served as executive producer for the Challenge for Change program (1968-70), an innovative experiment to encourage citizen participation by offering filmmaking training and equipment to dissatisfied minorities. The success of his You Are on Indian Land in winning the protesting Mohawk Indians a hearing before Canadian government officials is a milestone in the history of the NFBC and the documentary itself.

In 1970, he joined New York University where he founded the Alternate Media Center (1971-78), a pioneer facility i n the use of video for public access television and cable. Recent media productions of his—many of these co-produced with his former students—include The Uprising of '34 (with Judith Helfand), which aired nationally on P.O. V., a study of race, class and the rights of working people; We Shall Overcome (with Jim Brown), a feature­ lengch narrative of the civil rights anthem produced for PBS and winner of an Emmy; and The Weavers: Wasn't That a Time! (with Jim Brown and Harold Leventhal), a feature-length, theatrically-released documentary about the folksinging quartet.

Current works in progress for Stoney include Paulo Freire in Action, a series about the renowned Brazilian educator and philosopher; How One Painter Sees, on the art of theatrical designer Lloyd Burlingame; and Rage to Love, a film about French-American sculptor Gaston Lachaise.

How the Myth Was Made, released in 1979, is an hour-long study of Robert Flaherty's classic documentary Man of Aran (1934), returning to the Irish islands that had been the scene of Flaherty's filmmaking some 45 years earlier and the land where Stoney's father had been born. In many ways, this film as much as any work by Stoney, demonstrates his concern with the heritage of documentary, its promise and challenge as a voice for the people, its ability to move and change the minds and behavior of people, by chronicling and expressing views in a vibrant way, to better the plight of its makers and subjects.