BFCA awarded NEH grant of $325,582 to archive and digitize Paulin S. Vieyra’s collection
The Black Film Center & Archive has been awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities grant for the Humanities Collections and Reference Resources program for the full amount of $325,582. The BFCA will hire a processing archivist and an M.L.S. grad student for three years to process, digitize, and make available the Paulin S. Vieyra collection. Vieyra (Jan. 31, 1925–Nov. 4, 1987) was a filmmaker, producer, and scholar whose career is central to West African film history. Amber Bertin, the head archivist at the BFCA, wrote the grant and budget and will serve as the main principal investigator overseeing the research for the next three years.
“The support of the Vieyra family, especially Stéphane Vieyra, was crucial to the grant application process,” said Associate Professor Akin Adeṣọkan, who was interim director of the BFCA and supervised the writing of the grant application. “They were mindful of the importance of the collection, and this was also reflected in the enthusiasm of Africa-based scholars, who started making inquiries about access as soon as they learned of BFCA’s acquisition of the collection.”
The collection includes Vieyra’s personal papers, correspondence, publications, photographs, films, and personal artifacts among other materials. Highlights from the collection include Vieyra’s personal typewriter, camera, and projectors, as well as notes from his time as a student at the Institute for Advanced Cinematographic Studies, numerous interviews with other African filmmakers, documents concerning his work with Senegalese government cultural institutions, documents concerning his work with Pan-African Federation of Filmmakers and the Pan-African Film Festival, numerous unpublished manuscripts and screenplays, and copies of several of Vieyra’s films.
“This generous NEH grant will enable the BFCA to archive, preserve, and make the Paulin S. Vieyra available to scholars and students for generations to come,” said Rachael Stoeltje the interim director of the BFCA. “Vieyra’s work as a pioneering figure in African cinema, a mentor to many, and one of the founders of the Fespaco Film Festival – one of the most important events in African cinema – makes his contributions instrumental in shaping the trajectory of the film industry, specifically in African Cinema, with a worldwide impact.”
The NEH supports projects that provide an essential underpinning for scholarship, education, and public engagement in the humanities. It strengthens efforts to extend the reach of humanities collections and make their intellectual content widely accessible.
“This NEH grant is a testament to the BFCA’s exceptional work over the last four decades in preserving Black cinema around the world, and this funding will have a significant impact on the BFCA’s ability to continue to achieve this important mission,” said Stoeltje.
The BFCA will also work with IU Libraries’ paper conservator Doug Sanders who will conserve some of the fragile archival papers to help document the life and career of the African filmmaker. Associate professor of Francophone studies Vincent Bouchard is also planning a weeklong workshop with 30 scholars who will visit IU to work with the Vierya collection. During the research stay, scholars will organize discussion tables, paper presentations, and film screenings to stress new perspectives on African film studies and to share novel discoveries from the archives with specialists and the public. The outcome of the workshop will be a published book of essays from participants.
“When the BFCA made the agreement with Stéphane Vieyra about the donation of his father’s archives, part of the deal was to preserve this source of information,” explained Bouchard. “With this NEH grant, the BFCA is now ready to fulfill the second part of the contract: making available the Vieyra collection to an international network of scholars and, more importantly, to the larger public, specifically in Senegal and in West Africa, via the digitalization of some of the archives.”
“Not only will this help make the history of African cinema accessible to the general public, but it will also help us better understand the ways in which this legacy of African cinema continues to influence African cinema today. In a time when more individuals across the African continent and the world are turning to film and multimedia to express themselves and the state of our world, now is the time to share Paulin S. Vieyra’s legacy with the world.”