Spotlight: Pam Harris

Films that celebrate community

By Daisy Hernandez Mar 05, 2009

Filmmaker Pam Harris thinks it’s important to cover the problems besieging the Black community, but when it came time to make her first film, “I wanted to counterbalance the pathology of Black people that’s portrayed often in the media,” she says. “We lack the piece of when we’re really doing well.”

Her documentary Land of Promise: The Story of Allensworth is that counterbalance. It takes the story of the only town in California founded by and for Blacks (many such towns were established in other states after the Civil War). One of Allensworth’s residents, Ed Pope, who recently passed away, touchingly describes in the film how he arrived in a town where everyone from the judge to the teachers were Black: “It was like coming from hell and falling right into paradise.”

The film won the Best Documentary award at the Reel Sisters of the African Diaspora Film Festival in Brooklyn.
Harris herself grew up in Hollywood but with radical labor activist parents who schooled her in being anti-establishment. In that spirit, she’s begun a new documentary that follows two Black students as they struggle to get a community college education. One of the students has already had to drop a class because financial aid is being withheld.

Harris though is confident about the students’ futures as she is about the Black community. “We have survived through incredible brutality,” she says, “and not only have we survived but we have created beautiful art forms…and co-created this

U.S. culture.” Her films are one more needed addition to that history.

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