September 19, 2023

Stanley Nelson: 5 Films That Continue to Inspire Me

Stanley Nelson began his career in filmmaking apprenticing for the legendary documentarian William Greaves. "Bill gave me my first job when I was straight out of film school," he says now. "I learned so much because Bill just threw me onto the set in the middle of a production." Nelson began working on sound — which he'd studied in film school — before he was eventually asked to edit, too.

"A major thing I observed working with Bill is that he was supporting his family by making films as an independent filmmaker," he reflects. "That was not something I would have known was possible for a Black man until I saw Bill doing it."

In the decades since, Nelson has become the foremost chronicler of the Black experience in the 20th century. He is a MacArthur "Genius," a Peabody winner, and in 2013, President Barack Obama presented the filmmaker with the National Medal in the Humanities. In 2022, Nelson received his first Oscar nomination for Attica, a documentary about the 1971 prison uprising.

His new documentary is Sound of the Police, co-directed by Valerie Scoon, which examines the relationship between communities of color and law enforcement. "I knew I wanted to make a film that is set in the present but has a long, historical view of how we got here in terms of the current state of policing." In some ways, then, the film is a continuation of the work Nelson began with Attica.

"Attica and Sound of the Police walk a similar tightrope because, in some ways, they're both about violence, and you have to have the audience understand that violence without going overboard. You don't want the audience to get pissed off at you, like, 'Why did you make me watch this?'" explains the filmmaker. "Something I learned from Attica that I brought into my process for this film is to show the film to a few people and to ask, 'Is this too much? Is this enough?' Because sometimes, when you're working on difficult material, you become desensitized and can lose that perspective."

Read more at A.Frame.

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