Noted filmmaker returns to Natchez

Published 12:00 am Friday, October 9, 2009

The Historic Natchez Conference is hosting a movie premiere of sorts on Saturday morning — 44 years after the filming of “Black Natchez.” On hand for the premiere in the ballroom of the Eola Hotel will be the filmmaker, Ed Pincus, who is making his first return trip to Natchez since the 1960s. “Black Natchez,” which has never been shown to a large audience in Natchez, documents the civil rights movement in Natchez from inside the movement.

In a 2007 article published in the Boston Globe, writer Joanna Weiss began an article about filmmaker Ed Pincus with these two introductory paragraphs:

“The story sounds like fiction from a screenwriter’s imagination: Groundbreaking filmmaker abandons his career to protect his family from a madman, reinvents himself as a farmer in a remote Vermont village, doesn’t make a movie for a quarter century. And then comes back.

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“That this has happened in real life — and happened to a man who helped to pioneer the art of autobiographical filmmaking — seems especially fitting. As a Cambridge documentary filmmaker in the 1960s and ‘70s, Ed Pincus philosophized about a director’s connection to his subject, then made an epic film about his family life. He moved to Vermont to escape from a man who had been featured in one of his earlier movies, a paranoid-schizophrenic civil rights worker who eventually shot and killed a U.S. Congressman.”

Ed Pincus met white civil rights worker Dennis Sweeney in Natchez while filming “Black Natchez.” A paranoid schizophrenic, Sweeney later threatened the lives of Pincus and his family and killed New York Congressman Allard Lowenstein in 1980.

Professor Lance Hill will open the conference session at 8:30 a.m. Saturday with a discussion of the civil rights movement in Natchez.

Hill is the author of “Deacons for Defense: Armed Resistance and the Civil Rights Movement,” and is executive director of the Southern Institute for Education and Research, a tolerance education and race relations research center based at Tulane University in New Orleans. Hill was instrumental in bringing Ed Pincus back to Natchez.

According to writer Joanna Weiss, “Pincus may not be a household name, but in the flourishing world of documentary films, his legacy is indisputable. He worked and taught in the 1960s and ‘70s, helping to cofound the MIT Film Section, an influential filmmaking lab. He developed an innovative way of capturing sound with a 16mm camera. He co-wrote, with filmmaker Steven Ascher, a gold-standard technical reference book for filmmakers.”

Mimi Miller is executive director of the Historic Natchez Foundation.