Documentaries

Fenton Johnson writes and consults on narration for independent documentaries.

Stranger with a CameraStranger with a Camera
Directed and narrated by Elizabeth Barret; narration by Fenton Johnson  (2001)

In 1967 Canadian filmmaker Hugh O’Connor visited the mountains of Central Appalachia to document poverty. A local landlord, who resented the presence of filmmakers on his property, shot and killed O’Connor, in part because of his anger over the media images of Appalachia that had become icons in the nation’s War on Poverty. Filmmaker Elizabeth Barret, a native of Appalachia, uses O’Connor’s death as a lens to explore the complex relationship between those who make films to promote social change and the people whose lives are represented in such media productions. Through first-person accounts of the killing and the perspective of three decades of reflection, Stranger With a Camera leads viewers on a quest for understanding – a quest that ultimately leads Barret to examine her own role as both a maker of media and a member of the Appalachian community she portrays.

Stranger With a Camera is the story of a singular incident, yet it is emblematic of today’s unresolved questions concerning media images and the individual’s lack of power to define themselves within the American landscape. The film focuses on the O’Connor murder as a pivot point to explore issues of representation, culture, media and community.

Reviews

“A provocative moral inquiry but also a vivid portrait of a place and time.”
– The New York Times

“A quietly incisive and sublime examination of media power… Top of the List.”
– Booklist

“This provocative, troubling film about an almost forgotten tragedy will arouse conflicting emotions, but it’s a perceptive meditation on our eternal ambivalence about our relationship with the media.”
– Library Journal

“Stranger With A Camera is an exceptionally moving film about a people and place often misunderstood by the outside world.”
- 2000 Sundance Film Festival

“One of the best documentaries ever made…way beyond everything that has ever been done on the issue of where images come from and how images are perceived from different perspectives.”
- David Whisnant, Professor of English and American Studies, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Screenings & Festivals

PBS national screening, Sundance Film Festival, San Francisco International Film Festival – Golden Gate Award, DoubleTake Documentary Festival, Museum of Modern Art

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I Just Wanted to Be Somebody
Directed by Jay Rosenblatt, script written and read by Fenton Johnson (2006)

What do the religious right and the gay liberation movement have in common? Both were fortified by the efforts of one woman – Anita Bryant. Part document and part poem, I Just Wanted to Be Somebody brings us back to the late 1970’s and reflects on Bryant’s life and the impact she had. The film is comprised of news footage, commercials and Bryant’s own home movies. (Clips from I Just Wanted to Be Somebody appear in Gus Van Zant’s film Milk.)

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Scene from La OfrendaLa Ofrenda:  Days of the Dead
Directed by Lourdes Portillo, narration by Fenton Johnson and Lourdes Portillo (1992)

La Ofrenda explores Portillo’s cultural heritage: a Mexico of childhood memory and today’s Mission District, the Chicano and Latino barrio of San Francisco, California. The script however, purposefully denies biography as an organizing principle of the film by creating an anonymous voiceover commentary. The alternation of two nameless narrators, one male, one female, serves to stress historical and cultural continuity, in counterpart to the community events presented in the film.

– Rosa Linda Fregoso, The Spectator

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Laramie
Inside/Out

Directed by Beverly Seckinger, narration by Beverly Seckinger and Fenton Johnson (2004)

A portrait of the city of Laramie, Wyoming’s reaction to the 1998 murder of openly gay student Matthew Shepherd.