BFC/A Receives Grant to Preserve Rainbow Black: Poet Sarah W. Fabio

The Black Film Center/Archive at Indiana University has been awarded a Preservation Grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation to preserve the 1976 documentary film Rainbow Black: Poet Sarah W. Fabio.

Sarah Webster Fabio (1928-1979) established herself as a major figure in the black art and cultural consciousness movements of the 1960s and 1970s through her contributions as a poet, performer, literary critic, and educator. Strongly associated with the Black Arts Movement in which she was active, Fabio’s major poetic work includes the seven-volume series, Rainbow Signs (1973): Black Back: Back Black; Boss Soul; Jujus/Alchemy of the Blues; Soul Ain’t, Soul Is; and Together/To the Tune of Coltrane’s “Equinox.”

Sarah Webster Fabio’s album cover for Boss Soul.

As an educator, Fabio has been celebrated as the “Mother of Black Studies” for her pioneering work in the 1960s to establish programs at University of California at Berkeley and Oakland’s Merritt College, a focal point of the early Black Power movement in the San Francisco Bay Area.  She continued her academic career throughout the 1970s, pursuing a Ph.D. in American Studies and African American Studies at the University of Iowa, and teaching at Iowa, Oberlin College, and University of Wisconsin.  Today, her influence is perhaps recognized most widely through her four Folkways Records albums, including Boss Soul and Jujus/Alchemy of the Blues, which set her poetry to the music of the Don’t Fight the Feelin’ band, featuring her sons, Cyril Leslie Fabio III and Ronald Fabio, and son-in-law Wayne Wallace.

Sarah Webster Fabio’s album cover for Jujus/Alchemy of The Blues

Sarah’s daughter, Cheryl Fabio, produced Rainbow Black: Poet Sarah W. Fabio as her MA thesis film in communications at Stanford University.  Studying under Canadian Film Board member Ron Alexander, Cheryl began developing the film in 1972 and continued her work through 1976. The core of the film was shot by Cheryl and her classmate Angie Noel during a marathon weekend session in 1975, when Alexander permitted them to take university equipment to Iowa on the condition that she return it by Monday morning.  On completion of the film, Cheryl secured educational distribution through the now-defunct University of California Extension Media Center.  The film received an award from the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, where Cheryl later served as Program Director.

BFC/A Director Michael T. Martin with Sarah Fabio in Seattle, Washington (date unknown).

Cheryl has worked closely with BFC/A through the development of this project and will continue to play an important role in Rainbow Black‘s preservation and exhibition.  On receiving the news from NFPF,  she wrote:

I am so very delighted that this work will be preserved and that ‘Rainbow Black: Poet Sarah W. Fabio’ will continue to contribute to the ongoing legacy of my mother and her work.

Now, as an older woman and after having witnessed both my mother’s personal life and her career life – I am astounded by the feats she accomplished. In addition to making a difficult career choice, she raised the five of us relentlessly fighting for us during a difficult transition in history. I am also in awe of the fact that she trusted this documentation to me. I was only 22 years old at the time. When I realized that this film might be among the few or, even only, visual moving documents of my mother I was touched again by the honor she bestowed on me.

BFC/A and Cheryl will work with the renowned film preservation lab Colorlab  to restore the film.

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About BFC/A

The Black Film Center/Archive at Indiana University was established in 1981 as the first archival repository dedicated to collecting, preserving, and making available historically and culturally significant films by and about black people. The BFC/A's primary objectives are to promote scholarship on black film and to serve as an open resource for scholars, researchers, students, and the general public; to encourage creative film activity by independent black filmmakers; and to undertake and support research on the history, impact, theory, and aesthetics of black film traditions. View all posts by BFC/A

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