Middletown filmmaker Zora Neale Hurston’s documentary to air on PBS

Strain said he was shopping for groceries when he got a call from american experience asking you to create a documentary film about Hurston and his anthropological work.

“Of course I said yes, partly because she’s Zora Neale Hurston, an imposing figure, but that’s all I knew about her. I knew he had written of her ‘Her eyes of hers looked to God’ and was actually a little ashamed that I didn’t know more about her,” the Middletown resident said.

Zora Neale Hurston was a friend of Carl Van Vechten, a famous photographer during the Harlem Renaissance, who took this portrait on November 9, 1934.

Zora Neale Hurston was a friend of Carl Van Vechten, a famous photographer during the Harlem Renaissance, who took
this portrait on November 9, 1934.

Yale University Library

Eleven months later, Strain knows the details of the author’s life intimately as his documentary “Zora Neale Hurston: claiming a space” is set to air on PBS on January 17 at 9 pm Strain said she and her team quickly turned the documentary around and expressed gratitude for her team’s dedication to the film.

“I was particularly interested in this connection to the way he wrote ‘His eyes were looking at God,’ the connection between the anthropological work he did and his literary output,” she said. Working on the documentary gave Strain the opportunity to learn more not only about Hurston but also about anthropology. “She was considered the foremost scholar and connoisseur of black folklore,” Ella Strain said of the Hurston investigation.

“She thought it was beautiful, she thought it was meaningful, and she thought it was her business to let the world appreciate it,” Strain said.

in strain documentary viewers Learn not only about Hurston’s anthropological career, but also about her early life, the obstacles she faced, and how she was treated among her academic contemporaries. “This was someone who did everything possible to bring something that he cared about to the public and he faced tremendous obstacles,” Strain said. “She was a genius, she should have been supported.”

Over the course of his investigation, Strain said he learned a number of things about Hurston, including how Hurston had to work multiple jobs and lie about his age in order to get an education. Hurston was conducting his research in the early 20th century and confronted classism, racism, regionalism, and sexism while pursuing his academic interests.

Zora Neale Hurston was an author and anthropologist.

Zora Neale Hurston was an author and anthropologist.

Library of Congress

“I would like audiences to first and foremost understand the life and journey of Zora Neale Hurston and experience it in a powerful way, and I want people to think more about how we categorize people. Zora Neale Hurston faced discrimination from all corners, not just from white society,” the filmmaker said. “She didn’t let these things stop her from doing what she wanted to do. The only thing that seemed to stop her was money.”

Speaking of the author, Strain described her as “engaged” and “unafraid” as Hurston traveled solo through southern towns at sunset as a black woman while conducting her research. Strain added that as a filmmaker he felt a connection to Hurston.

“I feel an affinity with Hurston’s anthropological work in the sense that, as a documentary filmmaker, I sometimes have to enter spaces that are not my spaces; I have to do research to understand the spaces I’m going into and I have to talk to people and gain their trust so they’re willing to share their knowledge and their stories and basically collaborate with me,” he said. “I also feel that as an African-American documentary filmmaker, I face some of the obstacles that she has faced as well.”

Zora Neale Hurston plays with children in Eatonville, Florida.  This photo was taken during the Lomax-Hurston-Barnicle recording expedition to Georgia, Florida, and the Bahamas.  June 1935.

Zora Neale Hurston plays with children in Eatonville, Florida. This photo was taken during the Lomax-Hurston-Barnicle recording expedition to Georgia, Florida, and the Bahamas. June 1935.

Library of Congress

Throughout the documentary, Strain includes interviews with scholars discussing Hurston’s life and scholarly contributions, as well as quotes from Hurston and archival footage the author filmed while conducting her anthropological research.

“It was really challenging to put together this movie, there was a lot we wanted to say,” Strain said. “I wanted to try to tell as much of his story through his own voice.” The filmmaker noted that because some of Hurston’s papers were burned after her death and Hurston was not very open with her emotions, it became more difficult to find any writing by the author that revealed what she was thinking. and feeling. Some of the quotes included in the film are from letters Hurston sent to the poet Langston Hughes and the anthropologist Franz Boas.

Hurston’s writing fell out of fashion at the end of the Harlem Renaissance, but had a revival in the late 1970s when the author alice walker published an essay on Hurston. Strain said that Hurston has gained more interest in recent years as the book from him “bunkhouse” was published in 2018, and “You Don’t Know Us Blacks And Other Essaysit was published in 2022.

“I think it’s important to tell stories about underrepresented people whenever we can and I think Hurston provides that,” she said. “I think it’s important to have stories made for the general public about Zora Neale Hurston… I think her story resonates with a lot of African-American women and I think people crave stories about their ancestors, her ancestors, but I think her story is for everyone.”

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