American documentary filmmaker and activist John B. Douglas passed away on January 25. Douglas started his career in cinema as a founding member of Newsreel, a collective of activist documentary filmmakers that emerged from the progressive social movements of the late 1960s in the US. By making and distributing short 16mm documentaries about racial injustice, civil rights movements and other social issues, Newsreel provided an alternative to the distorted view of mass media. In 1975, Douglas co-directed Milestones (1975) together with Robert Kramer, also a member of Newsreel. Arguably Douglas’ masterpiece, Milestones maps the different paths taken by the New Left in the early 1970s. Through a combination of scripted and unscripted situations, the documentary film provides a portrait of a changing America during and after the Vietnam War. In the 1980s, Douglas began to explore digital animation and moved to video, which led to a number of political films such as Love the American People, Not the American Government (1988) and The Whitehouse (1998/2000).
“Milestones is Fire-Water-Air-Earth-People. It is a vision of America in the 1970’s and it is also a journey into the past and the future. It is a film with many characters. A people who are conscious of a heritage founded on the genocide of the Indians and the slavery of the Black Man. A nation of people — many of whom are searching into this past trying to correct the errors of the present — the attempted genocide of the Vietnamese people. Milestones is a complex mosaic of characters and landscape which weave together to form the fabric of the film. There are many scenes in many cities, faces and voices without endings but many beginnings. The film crosses America from the snow-covered mountains of Vermont, to the waterfalls of Utah, to the natural sculpture of Monument Valley, to the caves of the Hopi Indians, and the dirt and grime and energy of New York City. Milestones is a film about Rebirth. It is the rebirth of ideas and faces, of images and sounds. The molded clay of a blind potter is the rebirth of the soil. The deep snow is a promise of spring to come. The birth of a child is a symbolic as well as a visual rebirth of the film itself. And a film within the film, about the heroic Vietnamese people, is a tribute to their revolutionary struggle, their victory, and their future.”
Robert Kramer and John Douglas1
- 1. Dossier de presse: Milestones (Nantes: Capricci, 2018)