Who was James Blue?

A Man of Firsts

Surprisingly, few people know of this rare national treasure, James Blue. Although The March (1964), featuring Martin Luther King’s celebrated “I Have a Dream” speech, is considered the essential film of the Civil Rights Movement, there are few that recognize James Blue as the director. In 2008, The March was selected for preservation in the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry, taking its place among the most important films ever made.

A renowned educator, Blue taught throughout his life, influencing a whole generation of filmmakers. As a faculty member at UCLA, his students included rocker Jim Morrison (The Doors), Francis Ford Coppola, Paul Schrader and Joan Churchhill.  His impact on his colleagues and friends was in many ways equally profound. See the Voices sidebar.

An innovator, Blue experimented with technology, pioneered the use of non-actors in film, and tackled big subjects like food production, environment, urban displacement and human rights in films he made around the world.


 A Man of Firsts

  • America’s first Cannes Critics’ Prize winner in 1962 (Olive Trees of Justice)
  • Oregon’s first Oscar-nominated filmmaker in 1968 (A Few Notes on Our Food Problem)
  • The first filmmaker ever to receive a Ford Foundation grant for his project interviewing leading international directors working with non-actors
  • First faculty recruited to the Center for Advanced Film Studies at American Film Institute
  • Founder of the documentary film programs at both Rice University and Center for Media Study at SUNY Buffalo
  • Founder the Southwest Alternative Media Project (SWAMP) in Houston
  • Member of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) media funding panel which launched the first network of regional film centers, including Portland’s Northwest Film Center

It is startling that with such credentials, James Blue is not a recognizable name in American film history, but as remarkable as his accomplishments are, his obscurity is even more so.

In 1980, James Blue died at the age of 49, leaving behind a remarkable legacy only now being uncovered in 100 boxes of materials, a treasure trove of films, teaching materials, famous director interviews, audio tapes, notes and letters. Now, thanks to the collaboration of the Blue family and the University of Oregon, James Blue’s extraordinary life, lived passionately for film, will be heard and seen in perpetuity.