Video-rich website supports Eyes revival

Before Eyes on the Prize returns to PBS Oct. 2 [2006] for its first broadcast in 13 years, PBS.org will unveil a major website built around content from the seminal documentary series.

The site will offer streamed historic video from key moments in the civil rights movement, including speeches of the Rev. Martin Luther King. Nearly two hours of clips in all will be accessible on the Web in perpetuity.

In October, American Experience brings back Henry Hampton’s 1987 television series, which redefined the way Americans talked and learned about civil rights and social justice. Hampton’s first six Eyes programs, which cover the movement from 1954 to 1966, air in two-hour installments on Mondays beginning Oct. 2. PBS has not yet set airdates for the subsequent eight episodes, which document the movement’s progress through the mid-1980s.

Built on archival news footage and contemporary interviews with influential leaders and ordinary folk who challenged America to protect the rights of all its citizens regardless of race, the series fell out of circulation in the late 1990s after the death of Hampton, the visionary African-American filmmaker who created it with teams of up-and-coming producers at his Boston-based production company, Blackside Inc.

As original rights for footage in the films expired, videos of the series disappeared from libraries, and copies with steep prices turned up for sale on eBay and Amazon.com. In January 2005, open-source advocates in the blogosphere initiated a movement, later aborted, to upload Eyes to the Internet for free downloads. Efforts by Blackside Inc., now controlled by Hampton’s sisters, to rescue Eyes from expired copyright oblivion reassured those agitating for its return.

The Ford Foundation provided most of the financial wherewithal for the rights clearances, a project that took nearly two years, said Sandy Forman, a lawyer and project director for Blackside. Ford backed initial research into the cost of rights and, in a second grant, provided $600,000 to pay for clearances and repackaging of the series for broadcast and nontheatrical educational distribution via PBS Video. The Richard Gilder Foundation also gave $250,000 to the project. Funding for distribution of the series on home video and DVD is still being sought, Forman said.

“We’ve had enormous cooperation from all the rights holders,” Forman said. “Ninety-nine percent have worked with us and met our financial requirements, and we’ve been able to bring back the original programs.”

In developing the website, American Experience surveyed teachers about what content would be most useful to them for lessons about civil rights. The answer was “We want footage, not essays,” said Maria Daniels, director of new media for the series at WGBH.

PBS’s backing of the web production allowed American Experience to clear the video-streaming rights. “It was a huge piece of our budget,” Daniels said. The site, which will be the first comprehensive treatment of the civil rights era on PBS.org, will present video clips from 25 of the stories covered in the 14-hour television series.

Clips of King include an excerpt from his “I have a dream” speech, from the Montgomery, Ala., bus boycott and from interviews.

The site was modeled on the web companion to Vietnam: A Television History, another landmark series born before the Web that lives on through occasional PBS rebroadcasts and a well-trafficked website, according to Daniels. Like the Vietnam site, the online Eyes will include a timeline and essays on the era.

The Eyes website will invite visitors to share their own experiences. “We wanted to make sure there was a place for people who were active in the movement to tell their stories,” Daniels said. A similar section on the Vietnam site draws “very interesting” submissions, she said.

Both CPB and the Annie E. Casey Foundation provided funding for an educational outreach campaign tied to the Eyes broadcast, Forman said.

EARLIER ARTICLES

Producer Henry Hampton profiled, 1993. Hampton dies, 1998.

LATER ARTICLE

Public TV plans topropose American Archive to preserve pubTV programs and extend rights for public access.

LINKS

Wired magazine reports on thedisappearance of the series from public view.

PBS.org website for the series created for the 2006 rebroadcasts.

Copyright 2006 Current

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