More on the Respecting Diversity Initiative

The James Blue Alliance (JBA) was established December 31, 2013 to showcase and share James Blue’s multiple contributions to the cinema arts and education. His break-through film-making, including his classic production of The March, his Cannes Critics Prize winning feature film, Les Oliviers de la Justice (The Olive Trees of Justice) and his numerous and exquisitely intimate short films, shot in communities around the world foreshadowed the democratization of the personal film. With an initial grant of $80,000 by his brother Richard N. Blue, JBA intends to share the legacy of James Blue’s powerful teaching and his contribution to regional, participatory and democratic film-making. Today, everyone is a film maker, with personal technologies that were only imagined by James Blue’s approaches, methods and impulses. But imagined they were.

Nearly all of James’ work focused on issues of understanding and respecting diverse cultures and socio-political situations outside the main-stream of American white, middle-class experience. Most of his films were set in developing countries suffering from severely stressful situations, whether from disease, political turmoil or natural disasters. His American films, notably The March, the complete documentary of the1963 March on Washington, and his investigations of housing crises in Houston, Texas, are efforts to join with the audience in our need to listen to people who are suffering with legitimate grievances, whether the voice was that of charismatic civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr, a drought stricken farmer in southern Kenya, or of the parents in an isolated mountain village who had no school for their children to attend.

But these portrayals and voices were not the voices of despair alone, they were also expressions of hope. Martin Luther King’s “I have a Dream” speech, captured in The March, spoke eloquently of a vision of racial justice and harmony in America. The villagers of Rincon Santo came together to build a school for their children. The agricultural test farm technicians knew that they could find crops that would grow in poor soils of north eastern Brazil.

James Blue died in 1980 at the age of 49 years, leaving behind an extraordinary corpus of films, videos, audio recordings of interviews with famous directors in Europe and America, and institutional landmarks in Houston, Los Angeles, Portland, Oregon, and Buffalo NY. This entire body is now at the University of Oregon, where James studied theater arts at the Bachelors and Master’s level. Other materials are at the Paris Cinematheque in France, where James earned an advanced film making certificate from Institut des haute estates cinematographiques (IDHEC).

Teaching Respect for Diversity

“I’m from Stone Mountain, Georgia. If I had seen this film when I was in grade school, it would have changed the direction of my life. It should be shown in every school in America.”  (Statement of a young white man after seeing The March for the first time. April 2014.)

The JBA wants to do what that young man from Stone Mountain, Georgia told us to do. We want to get The March and other films into schools to help teachers start a meaningful conversation about understanding and learning to respect diversity.

In his films James Blue respected the diverse expressions of  other cultures while also having the unique ability to find the common core of aspirations and values that bind us together as human beings.  As he said when asked why he was making a film about a  historic African American neighborhood in Houston, Texas, that was about to be demolished, he answered: “I want to understand”.  The desire to understand is the first step on the road to respecting diversity.    With that understanding and appreciation the door is opened to dialogue, interaction, and hopefully genuine mutual respect and harmony.

We will start with The March, making that film available at cost to teachers throughout the United States. We will work with other institutions dedicated to the same ideals that have already developed teaching materials. Subsequently we will develop our own suitable teaching materials based on testing and feedback from teachers who have used the film.

As global diversity is increasingly central to the world we live in, today’s students will benefit tremendously from James Blue’s broad reach to understand and appreciate the value of diversity. His prize winning films made in Columbia, Algeria, Kenya and elsewhere, all portray how people in these very different cultures want the things we all want; a school for their children, access to medical care, access to modern technology, a better life.

Each of these films is short enough to fit within a one hour time frame. Shown in sequence over several days with accompanying teaching materials the films will move the discussion from an American to a global focus. These films will be introduced after The March, and together will form a powerful Respecting Diversity teaching module that will help expand the world view of todays students. These will be offered as separate units or as an entire module. Once the teaching materials are developed and tested, the module will be available at a cost sufficient to cover administration, mailing and handling, making the program substantially self-sustaining.

In a nation and indeed a world where racial, cultural or religious differences are the justification for unimaginable brutality and oppression, the need for powerful teaching materials to promote understanding and respect has never been greater. Just fifty odd years since the The March on Washington, the Freedom Summer campaigns, and the passage of the voting rights act, segregation, mis-understanding, and outbreaks of violence continue. Acting alone, no single program can alleviate the conditions which give rise to this. But not acting is no longer a choice. Working together we can make a difference.

The JBA Respecting Diversity Program needs your help and support. With your help we can make available these powerful films and supporting materials that teachers can use to get the conversation started in “every school in America”. And, perhaps, in schools across the globe.

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