‘This Far by Faith is the final Blackside series that will have benefitted from the direct creative and intellectual genius of our founder, Henry E. Hampton,’ explains Dante James, executive producer on the project. Hampton, who founded Boston-based production company Blackside Inc., passed away in the fall of 1998, prior to the series going into full production.
For a man who lived just 58 years, Hampton’s list of accomplishments is remarkable. He received countless filmmaking and humanitarian awards for his work, earned 14 honorary degrees, sat on numerous boards, and in 1991 was named by then President George Bush as one of five Americans who have made outstanding contributions to the humanities.
But accolades aside, one has only to speak to friends and colleagues like James to understand that one of Henry’s greatest achievements was the effect he had on the people around him. ‘My relationship with Henry was much more than a professional relationship – he was a friend and a supporter,’ says James.
Today, the company is helmed by Henry’s two sisters: Judy Hampton as president and Veva Zimmerman as VP. Hampton explains that while Henry cannot be replaced, the company is committed to preserving its core mandate. ‘That’s our first and primary role,’ Hampton explains. ‘We want to continue to produce thought provoking, socially relevant documentaries.’
This Far By Faith: Stories from the African-American Religious Experience is one of two doc projects currently on the go at Blackside and should be completed by January 2001. Funding for the 6 x 1-hour, US$3.5 million-plus series came from sources including the Annie E. Casey Foundation, The Ford Foundation and PBS, which will air it sometime in the fall of 2001. Faith examines how African-American religious communities have helped shape the democratic ideals central to American society. The series, created by Hampton, reflects his utter commitment toward social and political ideals. Says James, ‘Henry believed in, and was committed to, the concept of democracy, and the idea of citizen responsibility. That’s something that was very central to the way he approached filmmaking.’
The other project, called Hopes on the Horizon, is a US$2 million, two-hour one-off that will be completed by the end of this year. The program will air on PBS. With funding provided by the Ford Foundation – who envisioned the idea – as well as the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, the program partners Blackside with African producers and researchers who will tell their own stories of Africa’s struggles in the 1990s.
Additionally, a number of other projects are in the pipeline. The company is in the early stages of development on a series about the relationship between the African-American and Jewish communities in the U.S. Judy Hampton is also working on a re-broadcast of Eyes on the Prize, Blackside’s premiere series.
In an effort to branch out into new territory, the company will begin producing corporate training videos and is strongly considering a foray into dramatic films. (A possible partnership with music legend Harry Belafonte and his New York-based prodco HarBel Productions is in the works, James says.) And finally, a new mentorship program called the Henry Hampton Film Institute is being developed, which will offer training and support to up-and-coming filmmakers.
Looking back, Judy Hampton attributes the company’s continuing success to the dedication of the Blackside team, who have carried on through the difficult period following Henry’s death. ‘Just simply keeping on track with the films, producing on schedule,’ she says. ‘These folks have gone way beyond.’