The Legacy of A Legendary Documentary Filmmaker
George C. Stoney, known as the dean of American documentary filmmakers and the "father of public access television," died on July 12, 2012, at his home in New York City. Born on July 1, 1916 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, he was 96 years old at the time of his death. He will be profoundly missed.
An Exceptional Career
Stoney was a superb and prolific documentarian, educator and social activist. In an exemplary career that spanned more than 70 years, Stoney wrote, directed and produced more than 50 documentaries and television series, taught at leading educational institutions where he mentored hundreds of burgeoning filmmakers and worked tirelessly as a social activist and an advocate for public access to media. Stoney's award winning documentary features 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), among others.
In 2002, the Library of Congress included “All My Babies” in the National Film Registry. The classic documentary, commissioned by Georgia's Department of Public Health, was intended to educate midwives working in impoverished rural areas. It includes a 15-minute childbirth sequence and re-enactments of various challenging birthing situations. After establishing itself as a teaching tool in the United States, the film was distributed around the world by the World Health Organization and UNESCO. Journalist Bill Moyers named Stoney's “The Uprising of ‘34” as one of the top ten documentaries on social justice. The film is an expose of the brutal way in which factory owners squashed the 1934 textile workers' strike for better wages and working conditions.
Stoney's work has received many retrospectives at venues, including the Museum of Modern Art, University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Documentary Educational Resources, New York's IFC Center's Stranger Than Fiction series, Anthology Film Archives, Citylore, Media Working Group, Austin Access TV, USC, Catholic University (Sao Paulo), Film Centrum (Stockholm), Pacific Film Archive, and others.
Studies and Social Activism
Stoney Stoney earned a B.A. in English and Journalism from the University of North Carolina in 1937, and continued his studies in journalism at New York University from 1938 to 1939. He worked at New York City's Henry Street Settlement House in 1938, then as a field research assistant for Gunnar Myrdal and Ralph Bunche's project on Suffrage in the South in 1940, and then as an information officer for the for the Farm Security Administration.
Stoney was drafted in 1942, and served during World War II as a photo intelligence officer for the U.S. Air Force in the European Theater from 1942 through 1945. He was discharged from the military with the rank of Captain.
In 1945, he resumed his education, enrolling at Balliol College, Oxford, where he studied social institutions.
In 1946, he took a job at the Southern Educational Film Service as writer and director.
In 1948, he was back at school, admitted to the University of London’s Media Studies program, where he received a Film in Education Certificate.
In 1950, Stoney started his own documentary film production company.
Professor and Public Access Advocate
During his tenure at several leading university film departments, Stoney inspired and mentored hundreds of students who went on to become outstanding filmmakers. He taught at Stanford University from 1965 to 1967, then at the University of Southern California, City College of New York and Columbia University. Most recently, in 1979, he joined the faculty of New York University's Tisch School of the Arts' Department of Film & Television, where he served as chair for two years and taught courses on Socially Relevant Documentary Production, Documentary Traditions, and Images of the 1930s. In 1988, George received the NYU Distinguished Teaching Medal. He continued to teach at Tisch SOA through the Spring 2012 semester with David Bagnall, his longtime film collaborator and former student, joining him in the classroom as co-teacher. Stoney, an early advocate of democratic media and public access, was the executive producer for the National Film Board of Canada's Challenge for Change program from 1968 to 1070, and a founding member of the Alliance for Community Media (ACM). Each year, the ACM presents the “George Stoney Award” to an organization or individual who has made an outstanding contribution to championing the growth and experience of humanistic community communications.
In 1972, he co-founded (with Red burns) NYU’s Alternate Media Center, which trains citizens in the tools of video production for Public-access television. He was named to the Manhattan Community Cable Access Board in 1991. In 1999, he received the Manhattan Borough President’s Award. A staunch advocate for documentary film as a vehicle for social change, Stoney traveled throughout the United States and around the globe, presenting his films and lecturing in Canada, England, France, Belgium, Germany, Spain, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland, Israel, Jordan, Syria, Nigeria, Mexico, India, and Brazil. During his 70 year career, Stoney was truly instrumental in transforming the landscape for documentary film and filmmakers.