Duke and UNC Welcome Filmmaker Marco Williams as the 2014–15 Lehman Brady Visiting Professor


The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University is honored to host acclaimed filmmaker and film educator Marco Williams on the Duke and University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill campuses as the 2014–15 Lehman Brady Visiting Joint Chair Professor in Documentary Studies and American Studies. CDS coordinates the cross-campus collaboration, which brings distinguished practitioners and scholars of the documentary arts to both schools to teach and participate in other events open to students and the general public. “The Lehman Brady Committee has been trying for a decade to coax Marco Williams to join us,” said committee chair Charlie Thompson, a core faculty member at CDS and Duke professor of the practice of cultural anthropology. “We are elated to have this giant of the documentary world as part of our community for the coming academic year.”

Over the course of an award-winning filmmaking career that began with the 1982 short From Harlem to Harvard and continues with his project-in-progress about black-on-black homicide, for which he received a 2014 Guggenheim Fellowship, his “recurrent canvas has been the lingering residue of slavery in America—race relations,” Williams wrote in his Guggenheim artist’s statement. “To challenge the status quo, to challenge an audience’s comfort level, to interrogate and investigate our collective psyche as Americans, this has been the foundation of my artistic aspirations. . . . I try to tell the stories we’d rather not tell.” (Scroll down for a complete list of Williams’ films.)

As the Lehman Brady Professor, this fall Williams is teaching Documenting Personal Narrative, a documentary studies course open to both undergraduate and graduate students that explores the relationship between the personal and the communal through first person narrative in documentary film (watch a video that Williams made describing the course). Plans for the spring semester are in progress. “I’m looking forward to the intimacy that I think characterizes the South,” said Williams in a recent conversation. “I expect that intimate environment—where it’s a little slower paced, a little more familiar, a little more welcoming—will reinvigorate my own work. I’m also looking forward to the chance to engage students who may not be explicitly filmmakers or aspiring filmmakers, students who come from a diverse course of study. I think that’s going to be great, and challenging for me as an educator.”

Williams comes to North Carolina from New York City, where he is a professor in the Maurice Kanbar Institute of Film and Television at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Williams is no stranger to the state; he taught at the North Carolina School of the Arts for four years in the 1990s, and is a longtime participant at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, as filmmaker, panelist, and juror. The festival has screened many of his films over the years, including In Search of Our Fathers, Freedom Summer, The Undocumented, and several that have received prestigious Full Frame awards—Banished (Full Frame Spectrum Award, 2007) and Two Towns of Jasper (Center for Documentary Studies Filmmaker Award, 2002). (Scroll down for a list of other awards.)

“Marco’s work is unparalleled in making us look at the complexities of racial constructs in our society writ large or how those constructs are lived out in small towns like Jasper, Texas,” says Thompson. “He asks viewers not just to watch but forces us to say, What are we going to do about it? At CDS we’ve always been focused on making a difference with documentary. Marco’s every effort behind the camera is to make a difference. He will encourage us to ask ourselves what we are doing to join him; he will help us be our best selves as teachers, documentarians, and fellow human beings.”

Click here for an interview with Marco Williams conducted by Full Frame Documentary Film Festival programming coordinator Emma Miller.)

Directing Credits
The Undocumented (2013) Immigrants who died crossing the U.S.–Mexico border in the Arizona desert. Williams produced a companion online video game “The Migrant Trail,” that introduces players to the hardships and perils of crossing the Sonoran Desert.

Inside the New Black Panthers (2008) A militant political group seeks to redefine the black struggle for equality.

Banished (2007) A century ago in communities across the U.S., white residents forced black families to flee their homes.

Freedom Summer (2006) The murder of three civil rights activists in Mississippi galvanizes the civil rights movement. Part of the History Channel series Ten Days That Unexpectedly Changed America.

I Sit Where I Want: The Legacy of Brown v. Board of Education (2004) Fifty years after the historic Supreme Court ruling, fifteen students at a Buffalo, New York, high school attempt to integrate their self-segregated lunchroom.

MLK Boulevard: The Concrete Dream (2003) Do the nearly seven hundred streets in the U.S. named in honor of Dr. King recognize an African American icon or commemorate an America hero?

Two Towns of Jasper (2002) Two film crews, one black, one white, explore the aftermath of the 1998 murder of James Byrd, Jr., who was chained to a pick-up truck and dragged to death by three white men in Jasper, Texas.

Making Peace: Rebuilding our Communities (1995) Part of a PBS series documenting grassroots efforts to curb violence.

The Pursuit of Happiness: With Arianna Huffington (1994) Part of Declarations, an ITVS series on the Declaration of Independence, in which Huffington espouses charity and giving as the keys to happiness.

Without a Pass (1992) A man comes to terms with his choices twenty-five years after incidents during the Watts riots in 1965 caused him to leave the country and break ties with his best friend.

In Search of Our Fathers (1991) A first-person story of Williams’ seven-year search to learn about his father and to come to terms with what it means to grow up fatherless.

From Harlem to Harvard (1982) Issues of race and class on the Harvard campus through the experiences of a freshman student.

Awards: George Foster Peabody Award, Emmy Award, Knight Grand Jury Prize for Documentary Features, Beacon Award, Alfred I duPont Silver Baton, Full Frame Spectrum Award, Center for Documentary Studies Filmmaker Award, Pan African Film Festival Outstanding Documentary Award, Hot Docs Canadian International Film Festival Silver Award for Best International Documentary, Independent Feature Project Third Annual Anthony Radziwill Documentary Achievement Award, and National Association of Black Journalists First Place Salute to Excellence Award.

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    One Response to “Duke and UNC Welcome Filmmaker Marco Williams as the 2014–15 Lehman Brady Visiting Professor”

    1. Brenda Macauley says:

      Listened to your piece today on the State of Things, were can one obtain your docu films.

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