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Film & Media Archive Completes Preservation of Rare Documentary Film

The Washington University Libraries’ Film & Media Archive has successfully completed the preservation and digitization of the film Listen to a Stranger: An Interview with Gordon Parks (1973). The project was completed with the support of a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation (NFPF).

Listen to a Stranger spotlights esteemed writer, photographer, and filmmaker Gordon Parks, Sr., who discusses his life and career in the documentary. The film is an in-depth portrait of an iconic African-American artist and an early example of the work of Henry Hampton’s groundbreaking production company, Blackside, Inc., which later created the seminal civil rights documentary series Eyes on the Prize.

Former Blackside employee Romas Slezas donated the completed 16mm film of Listen to a Stranger—a rare, possibly one-of-a-kind print—to the Washington University Libraries. Slezas directed the production while at Blackside, Inc.

The film was originally commissioned by the Education Development Center as part of its “People and Technology” educational curriculum. The interview provides unique insights into the work of Gordon Parks, Sr., the film production process, and the history of African-American filmmaking. No other original elements to the film are known to exist.

The NFPF was established by Congress to help preserve the nation’s film heritage. In 2019, it awarded the Film & Media Archive a Basic Preservation grant of $4,960 to support the Listen to a Stranger project. The grant allowed for the generation of a new 16mm negative and a 16mm print of the film, as well as a 16mm negative optical track and a 16mm full-coat mag track for preservation of the film’s audio. The film also underwent a 2K scan with full color and density correction.

For more information, contact Andy Uhrich, curator of the Film & Media Archive.