Feb. 10, 2004

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Contact: Mary Jane Dunlap, University Relations, (785) 864-8853.

4-time Emmy winner teaching at KU as Langston Hughes visiting professor

LAWRENCE -- Madison Davis Lacy, a four-time Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and veteran PBS station manager and programming executive, has joined the University of Kansas faculty this spring as the 2004 Langston Hughes visiting professor.

An independent film producer, Lacy is best known for films he has made over the past decade including "Eyes on the Prize II," "Richard Wright -- Black Boy" and "Beyond Tara -- The Extraordinary Life of Hattie McDaniel," and the PBS series "Free to Dance." He also was a consulting producer to Ken Burns for his "Jazz" series.

One of Lacy's current projects is "Pass It On," a film for the National Park Service Brown v. Board of Education Museum in Topeka. The museum officially opens May 17, marking the 50th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court ruling. This spring, Lacy will join Kevin Willmott, assistant professor of theatre and film, in addressing "Images of Race and Ethnicity in Film" for KU's "Legacies of Brown v. Board of Education" conference, March 14 through 17.

Chuck Berg, chair of theatre and film at KU, says Lacy makes a significant contribution to the department's growing film program and to the university's intellectual life.

"Dave brings a wealth of experience in documentary filmmaking and a long list of high-profile credits that give our students an opportunity to study theory and practice in with a top-rank professional," Berg notes.

In addition to teaching the Broadcast Documentary Workshop, Lacy teaches "Race and the American Documentary: The Struggle for Hearts and Minds," the focus of which will help students better understand the need to continue the campaign for equality and justice in all spheres of contemporary American life including the media, Berg adds.

Before leaving his New York City home in late January, Lacy was not only making a list of films he wanted students to view but also arranging to keep film projects he has in progress on schedule.

His current major projects include a film on the history of African-American theatre titled "It'll Be Me." The title comes from a Langston Hughes poem. Lacy envisioned the theatre series as "Free to Dance" began to receive acclaim and explored a similar series on theatre.

A second project is a documentary on the life and work of American writer Theodore Dreiser, titled "Gates of the Walled City." In January, Lacy was finishing interviews with the 91-year-old author of a memoir about her romantic relationship with Dreiser. She was a 17-year-old when she met Dreiser, who was in his 40s. Lacy notes that the project "has the best Dreiser scholars, is being filmed in high definition, and it will be stunningly beautiful."

Both the Dreiser project and the theatre series are supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Lacy also is collaborating with Sheila Walker, anthropologist and noted author on the African Diaspora, to produce a five- to six-hour series on "Scattered Africa." The series will examine "where Africa is all over the Americas."

While at KU, Lacy is relying on his production colleagues to keep the film projects moving forward. "I don't do anything by myself," Lacy notes, pointing out that collaboration is essential in film production.

Lacy says he regards the opportunity to teach filmmaking at KU this semester as "a way to round out my career in fine fashion." His career includes experience in broadcasting, ghost writing, and independent film development and production. Although he knew even in college that he wanted to make films, Lacy has been making films only since 1989.

As a graduate in communications at Washington State University in the late 1960s, Lacy found few film jobs open to minorities. He put his filmmaking ambition on hold and went to work for PBS. Lacy worked through the ranks to become an executive producer at WGBH in Boston. Along the way, he met Henry Hampton, who later asked Lacy to help write a proposal for the first series of "Eyes on the Prize." Lacy says that although some of his colleagues find writing an impossible chore, he always has enjoyed it, and he accepted Hampton's offer.

Lacy's own career in filmmaking took off when Hampton recruited him for "Eyes on the Prize II." "I knew that this was my chance," Lacy recalls. As he viewed rough cuts by Hampton's crew "it felt like somebody had poured lava over me -- this flood of memory about what it felt like to make a film. And that was it. I didn't turn back. We sat down and we started working on that film and it won us an Emmy!"

He since has won national Emmys for "Free to Dance" and for "Beyond Tara" and a regional Emmy for "Richard Wright -- Black Boy."

As a visiting professional at KU, Lacy says he hopes to impart lessons learned in filmmaking. Those include learning how to bring a story to life in film and developing an appreciation of the amount of work filmmaking demands. Lacy is showing his students work by filmmakers he admires for their problem-solving genius and craftsmanship -- including Barbara Kopple ("Fallen Champ: The Untold story of Mike Tyson"), Peter Watkins ("The War Game"), Gillo Pontecorvo ("The Battle of Algiers") and Ken Burns (Civil War series). Lacy notes, "My favorite stuff of Burns is not the stuff we worked on together in 'Jazz.' He did some sequences on Jackie Robinson in the middle of 'Baseball' that is some of the sweetest stuff you ever want to see."

Finally, Lacy emphasizes that his classes are not just show and tell. "If anything I would hope that young men and women would come away [knowing] that in addition to bringing skill to the table, you've got to also bring some passion. You got to want to do this. If it's drudgery and you're bored, then don't do it.

"But if you're really interested in great storytelling and how to do it; if you are really interested in this art form, filmmaking as a way of representing or replicating life, then you might have the basic kind of foundation upon which we can work."

The Langston Hughes visiting professorship was established in 1977 at KU to honor the late poet, playwright and historian who lived in Lawrence as a child. The professorship rotates among several KU departments, bringing to campus prominent scholars in fields compatible with Hughes' interests.


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