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International Documentary Association Honors GreavesPresents 2004 Career Achievement Award to William Greaves (October 21, 2004)
William Greaves will receive the International Documentary Association's (IDA) 2004 Career Achievement Award. He will be feted during the 20th Annual IDA Distinguished Documentary Achievement Awards Gala here at 6:30 p.m. on December 10 at the Directors Guild of America (DGA) Theater.
"William Greaves has made unique and important contributions to advancing our understanding and appreciation of humanity and the African-American experience," says IDA President Richard Propper. "Through his work as a filmmaker, actor, and teacher, he exemplifies the values and spirit of non-fiction filmmakers around the world."
Greaves has compiled an extraordinary body of work including scores of documentaries, in addition to extensive work in the theater and occasional narrative films. His efforts as a producer, director and writer have earned more than 70 awards at international film festivals. Greaves has also earned lifetime achievement honors from the Black American Independent Film Festival, the Association of Independent Video and Filmmakers, and the National Black Theater and Film Festival.
In 1980, Greaves was inducted into the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, and was also a recipient of the Actors Studio's Duse Award. His company, William Greaves Productions, Inc., distributes its own library of educational films and videos to television and cable systems, universities, colleges, libraries, cultural organizations and schools throughout the world.
In his early teens, Greaves, who was born and raised in Harlem, won a scholarship to study art at The Little Red Schoolhouse and studied sculpting at the YMCA in Harlem. He attended Stuyvesant High School, the top science-oriented high school in New York City where he had the opportunity to draw cartoons for the school newspaper. As a young man, Greaves danced with the original Pearl Primus dance company at New York's Roxy Theatre, Carnegie Hall, Town Hall and Madison Square Garden. He also wrote songs that were recorded by Eartha Kitt, Arthur Prysock, Buddy Johnson and Al Hibbler, among others. But he soon moved into acting and landed roles in a couple of Broadway hits and a featured role in the hit movie, LOST BOUNDARIES, which starred Mel Ferrer and Canada Lee, a 1949 drama about a light-skinned black man who passes for white. Greaves passed The Actors Studio audition and studied with Lee Strasberg, Elia Kazan and Daniel Mann. But in the midst of his career he gave up acting when he found the vast majority of the roles he was being asked to play were demeaning to African Americans. Greaves' interest in African American and ancient African history motivated him to get behind the camera and try his hand at filmmaking.
"I decided to step behind the camera to try to counter all the B.S. that the media was selling to the American people and disseminating throughout the world," says Greaves. "My goal was to use the medium of film to tell the truth about our history and that of Africa."
Greaves studied at the Film Institute of the City College of New York and apprenticed with the pioneering producer/director Louis de Rochment. Unable to find work in the industry, he left the country and applied as an apprentice at John Grierson's National Film Board of Canada, where he was soon offered a permanent job on staff. "Grierson saw the potential of the documentary film as a tool for affecting positive social change," he says. "That appealed to me and coincided with my interest in expanding public awareness and appreciation of the important role that the African in America, in Africa in the entire diaspora played in the evolution of world civilization.
"Truth is very empowering, very energizing," he continues, "not only for the audience, but for the individual who is lucky enough to have the opportunity to use the medium of film to communicate the truths of the human experience."
In 1963, as the Civil Rights movement was beginning to effect change in the racial climate of America, Greaves had an opportunity to return to the States to work as a producer/director in the television department of the United Nations. He made several films for the United States Information Agency, then headed by George Stevens, Jr., and started his own independent filmmaking company. In 1968, Greaves was executive producer and co-host of the groundbreaking public affairs network television series BLACK JOURNAL, which won an Emmy Award for outstanding public affairs television programming. His many documentary film credits include the recent two-hour PBS special RALPH BUNCHE: AN AMERICAN ODYSSEY narrated by Sidney Poitier, IDA B. WELLS: A PASSION FOR JUSTICE with readings by Toni Morrison and narrated by Al Freeman Jr., and FROM THESE ROOTS, narrated by Brock Peters, a social, political and cultural exploration of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s. This film won 22 film festival awards and has become a classic in African-American history studies.
Greaves was executive producer for the Universal Pictures movie BUSTIN' LOOSE, which starred Richard Pryor and Cicely Tyson. He also produced and directed the cinema verite feature film ALI, THE FIGHTER, and the recently rediscovered and highly acclaimed feature SYMBIOPSYCHOTAXIPLASM: TAKE ONE. The latter has been shown at numerous festivals here and around the world including Berlin and Sundance.
For over a decade, Greaves taught screen acting for Lee Strasberg at the Strasberg Institute in New York. He lectures and gives informal talks on independent filmmaking, the African-American experience in films, as well as about his own career as a filmmaker, at universities, libraries and other educational and cultural centers throughout the U.S. and abroad.
"It's very gratifying that the work that I've been involved in is being confirmed and affirmed by my colleagues at IDA," says Greaves. "I'm deeply moved, happy and grateful for this award."
Greaves joins a prestigious group of recipients of the IDA Career Achievement Award, including filmmakers Sir David Attenborough, Ken Burns, Ricky Leacock, Albert Maysles, Frederick Wiseman, Henry Hampton, Robert Drew, Marcus Ophuls, Jacques Yves Cousteau, Charles Guggenheim, Jean Rouch, David Wolper and Michael Apted. The award was also presented to Walter Cronkite, Bill Moyers, Fred Friendly, Sheila Nevins and Ted Turner in recognition of their efforts to enable documentarians to tell their stories.
"William Greaves richly deserves this recognition from his peers," says IDA Executive Director Sandra Ruch. "He is a principled, dedicated and talented storyteller whose films have made a positive difference in our world. He is an inspiration to filmmakers who dare to tell the truth."
About the International Documentary Association
IDA traces it roots to an informal meeting of about a dozen filmmakers in Los Angeles in 1982. They defined a need for a non-profit organization that served as a forum where non-fiction filmmakers could share ideas and discuss and advocate issues of common interest. The organization has some 2,500 members in 50 countries today.
The annual IDA Distinguished Documentary Achievement Awards Gala is designed to recognize and inspire the pursuit of excellence. Eastman Kodak Company has sponsored the ceremonies since their inception in 1984.
"Documentary filmmakers rarely receive the recognition they deserve for their dedication to the art form, and the important contributions they make to enlighten the public," says Michael Zakula, IDA trustee and Kodak executive. "The IDA Distinguished Achievement Awards help draw attention to these talented storytellers and their works."
Sundance Channel is also supporting the IDA as a sponsor of the Gala. For additional information about the IDA Distinguished Documentary Achievement Awards, visit www.documentary.org or call 213-534-3600, ext. 0.
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