After 10 years, "Fifty Years of Painting: Lois Mailou Jones," a semi-documentary on the native Washington artist, has finally become a reality. Abiyi R. Ford, of Howard University's Department of Radio, Television and Film, produced, directed and edited the hour-long film airing on WETA-TV (Channel 26) on Wednesday at 10 p.m.
Ford managed to gather most of the works exhibited in Jones' 1973 Boston Museum of Art show, "Reflective Moments," last year, 10 years after the exhibit. It had been filmed by a student at the time, but the project broke down in acrimony over fees, and wound up in court.
Then Jones appeared in Ford's office shortly after her husband (Haitian artist Vergniaud Pierre-Noel) died, "with the film and tears in her eyes . . . I told her I'd do anything possible to produce another film at no cost to her," said Ford.
With a grant from WETA's Minority Producers Laboratory, Ford proceeded. "My film is not a documentary like the original had intended to be," he said, "but rather, is a sketch by me as an artist on the works and producer of an artist. The film never intended to be a substitute for seeing her works in a gallery, but I realized that some people would never see some of those works, and I wanted to give them my view of her art." The music of Josephine Baker and Billie Holiday accompanies shots of Jones' paintings from her early days in Paris and the South. Perhaps her most memorable pieces, influenced by her life in Haiti with Pierre-Noel, are set to the music of Haitian singer Toto Bissainthe's "Chante Haiti."
"I found that Bissainthe's music said what Jones' paintings say," said Ford. "She was into eyes, too, so I asked her to do some construction paper cut-outs of eye shapes and put the camera behind them so that the viewer would feel like he is inside a mask. I tried to make the audience get inside the art, and feel its rhythms, too. I realized though that a lot of people would not understand the Haitian music, so I did my own translation of it:"
You are the wind (of history)
We (the artists) are the butterflies
All that is good we see
All that is bad we see
Give us a push
We will carry the message to them (future generations)
"My only profit was putting my hand back in the filmmaking bin after years of teaching and theorizing," said Ford, "and transmitting a message to the people, a part of history."