Lionel Rogosin  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Lionel Rogosin (January 22, 1924 - December 8, 2000) was a maverick American filmmaker who worked outside the Hollywood system in the 1950s.


Born and raised on the East Coast of the United States, he was the only son of Israel Rogosin, one of the most eminent businessman-philanthropists in the textile industry. Lionel Rogosin attended Yale University and obtained a degree in chemical engineering in order to join his father's business. Extremely affected by World War Two, he volunteered and joined the Navy to fight war, fascism, and Nazism. Upon his return, he spent his free time traveling in war-ridden Eastern and Western Europe and Israel, as well as a trip to Africa in 1948. He then worked in his father's company until 1954, while teaching himself to film with a 16mm Bolex camera. Deeply concerned with political issues including racism and fascism, which to him were interconnected, Rogosin participated in a United Nations film called Out, a documentary-style film about the plight of Hungarian refugees.

Drastically changing his destiny and giving up a promising career, he decided to dedicate his life to promoting peace and confronting issues such as nuclear war, imperialism, and racism. Apartheid was his first target, but in order to make a film against it, he decided to learn by filming the Bowery, New York skid row, an effort influenced by the documentaries of Robert J. Flaherty. Thus he made On the Bowery in 1955-1956 in the tradition of neo-realism. The film was the first American film to receive the Grand Prize for Documentary at the Venice Film Festival in 1956. It also received a British Academy Film Award in 1956 and was nominated for an Academy Award.

Armed with this successful experience, Rogosin was able to begin his fight against Apartheid. With a small crew, and under the pretense of making a commercial film on African music, he clandestinely documented the life of a black South African migrant worker in Johannesburg. Completed in 1958 with non-professional actors and a young African singer named Miriam Makeba, Come Back, Africa created a sensation at the Venice Film Festival, winning the critics' film award.

Aware of the difficulties of distributing independent films in America, Rogosin founded and opened the Bleecker Street Cinema in New York City in 1960. The Bleecker became one of the most important independent art houses in New York, along with the New Yorker Cinema, and a form of cinema university for emerging film makers such as MiloŇ° Forman, Francis Ford Coppola, and many critics and film lovers. In the same period he was a founding and active member of the New American Cinema movement along with Jonas and Adolfas Mekas, Shirley Clarke, Bob Downey and many others, whose films were shown at the Bleecker Street Cinema.

Between 1960 and 1965, Rogosin traveled the world to gather material for his anti-nuclear war film Good Times, Wonderful Times, which was presented as the British entry at the Venice Film Festival in 1965. It was also shown at many American universities during the Vietnam War. Aware of the problems of distribution and production, Rogosin founded Impact Films in 1965 as a solution and distributed many political and independent films which couldn't have been distributed otherwise through the company. In 1965, Rogosin organized, along with others including Bertrand Russell (a fan of Good Times, Wonderful Times), the British Artists' Protest in August 1965 and the European Artists' Protest in December 1965 against the Vietnam War.

In 1966 he tried his hand at comedy by filming two zany, short, low-budget films called How Do You Like Them Bananas and Oysters are in Season while running the Bleecker Street Cinema and Impact Films.

In the 1970s, with rising financial difficulties, Rogosin made low-budget films supported by European television stations. Two of them, Black Roots and Black Fantasy, dealt with economic and social hardships faced by blacks in America. He went on to make Wood-cutters of the Deep South, about a black and white cooperative, and finally Arab-Israeli Dialogue, an attempt to give a voice and meeting ground to both parties through a discussion between a Palestinian poet and an Israeli journalist.

Rogosin sold the Bleecker Street Theater in 1974 and brought Impact Films to an end in 1978. Though he continued to develop many film projects on subjects such as Navajo Indians, police brutality, Paul Gauguin, and a musical about street children in Brazil, he was never able to raise enough money to film them. Despite critical success in Europe and among other American independent filmmakers, he was by and large neither recognized nor supported in the USA. He moved to England in the 1980s where he turned to writing. His health deteriorating, he went back to Los Angeles in the late 1990s.

He died in Los Angeles in December 2000.

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Lionel Rogosin" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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