When I began exploring Oregon film history, I knew I would run across surprises. I never expected to run across a filmmaker as accomplished, and as forgotten, as James Blue.
James Blue (1930-1980) grew up in Portland. He studied speech and theater at University of Oregon, graduating in 1953. After some years of military service, he entered film school in Paris where he was influenced by Jean Rouch. Although he first distinguished himself by winning the Critics Prize at Cannes for The Olive Trees Of Justice, a feature length narrative film, he spent the rest of his life making socially engaged documentaries.
Blue was a man of firsts. First Oregon director to go to Cannes, and the first to receive an Oscar nomination. First person ever to receive Ford Foundation funding for a film project. He helped start the Center for Advanced Film Studies at American Film Institute. The documentary programs at Rice University and at the Center for Media Study in Buffalo were both established by him. He served on the 1970- 1972 NEA funding panel which launched the first network of regional film centers, as proposed by Sheldon Renan. Northwest Film Center is the result of that NEA initiative.
Two Oregonians, James Blue and Sheldon Renan, on that panel!
The reason you haven’t heard of James Blue, or seen his films, is that his films have no distributor. They are not digitized. I am not sure even SUNY Buffalo, the school where he was teaching at the time of his death, can offer access to his films.
Here’s the crash course on Blue:
His IMDB page.
An interview with one of his students
A booklet compiled to accompany a retrospective of his films.
I am still trying to make sense of this new-to-me filmmaker. James Blue never returned to live/teach/work in Oregon. He is buried in Willamette Cemetery.