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IU alumnus, award-winning Black documentarian gifts collection to Black Film Center & Archive

Apr 13, 2023

When Jerald Harkness was shooting in 1993 for the documentary “Facing the Facade” — a film that followed the experiences of eight Black Indiana University Bloomington students at a predominantly white institution — the last thing on his mind was how the film would be perceived 30 years later.

Six adults stand behind a table filled with audiovisual materials Jerald Harkness, center, has made IU's Black Film Center & Archive the home for his film collection. Photo courtesy of Jerald Harkness.

But when the death of George Floyd brought a renewed focus on the experiences of Black people in America, it became clear that “Facing the Facade” and Harkness were having discussions that were ahead of their time.

Now, scholars, filmmakers and members of the IU community will have access to this film and many other audiovisual materials from Harkness, an IU alumnus, as he makes IU’s Black Film Center & Archive the home for his film collection. The gift consists of master copies, outtakes, interviews and other production elements from Harkness’ award-winning, 30-year career. Also included are Harkness’ home movies and preliminary interviews from incomplete projects.

The Black Film Center & Archive was established in 1981 by IU film professor Phyllis Klotman as a place to preserve and make accessible Black cinema. As interim director of the center and archive, Rachael Stoeltje knew that Harkness’ body of work would be a perfect fit for its collection.

“Jerald’s career is so rich and his films have grasped some important parts of not only IU history, but of Bloomington and Indiana history, too,” Stoeltje said. “He’s been telling stories that need to be told, and I feel that IU is the perfect place to preserve them, because Black cinema has been a focus at IU for such a long time, even before people were discussing its importance.”

Harkness agreed that IU was the right home for his collection. Not only did he have a personal connection to the Black Film Center & Archive as a former student of Klotman’s, but he also sees Stoeltje as a trusted friend. The two were study buddies during their time as undergraduates at IU. Stoeltje, a fine arts photography major, even took Harkness’ first headshots.

“The fact that my friend thought of me is incredibly humbling, rewarding and exciting,” Harkness said.

Harkness has also stayed in touch with the university throughout his career, shooting a documentary about Union Board in 2019, participating in panels at IU Cinema and even hosting a virtual screening in 2020 of “Facing the Facade” that featured an emotional discussion with cast members.

The poster for the film Facing the Facade Harkness' 1994 documentary “Facing the Facade” followed the experiences of eight Black IU Bloomington students at a predominantly white institution. Photo courtesy of Jerald Harkness

In addition to “Facing the Facade,” the collection includes Harkness’ 1992 film “Steppin,” a film that explores the roots and significance of the step competitions and features Black sororities and fraternities competing at IU, along with his films “The Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper,” “Living as a Legend: The Damon Bailey Story,” and “The Bright Path: The Johnny Bright Story.” The films, outtakes and interviews are on a range of formats, including 3/4-inch analog tape, Betamax and VHS tape.

The Black Film Center & Archive will preserve the original formats and will digitize the materials so they can be more easily accessed.

“My hope is that scholars in the future will be able to look at this body of work and take a step back to think about what it tells us about this 30-year span,” Stoeltje said. “From an archival perspective, there have been so many lost histories in cinema, and there is even less of an emphasis on the preservation of film from underrepresented communities. But at least now I can say that for a very, very long time, Jerald Harkness’ work is going to be preserved, digitized and made accessible.”

Harkness hopes that future filmmakers will be able to look at the masters and raw footage from his films to get a glimpse into the storytelling process and learn how to craft a narrative. Harkness and Stoeltje both agree that film scholars of the future will also be able to see the evolution of Harkness’ craft over his 30-year career.

“Documentary filmmaking is very tricky,” Harkness said. “It’s subjective, but your material is objective. I do always try to bring a personal style to every project.”

Studying the repertoire of directors like Martin Scorsese and Vincente Minnelli during a film course taught by IU professor James Naremore is what inspired Harkness to pursue a career in film. He said he hopes his collection may have a similar impact.

“So much of what I learned here as an IU student and as a Union Board director with access to video production equipment really helped me find my voice as a filmmaker here,” Harkness said. “That’s why it means so much to me to try and give back in a small way to a place that really helped me become a filmmaker.”

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Marah Yankey

Deputy director for storytelling

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