Lionel Rogosin

Lionel Rogosin
Film director, Producer, Screenwriter
Principal country concerned : Column : Music, Theater, Cinema/tv, Dance

Born in New York, 1924.

Rogosin was influenced early by the film, "All Quiet on the Western Front", and a few years later by the films of Flaherty and De Sica. Graduating from Yale, with a degree in chemical engineering, he volunteered to serve in the Navy during World War II. In 1954 he resigned from a successful business career to begin his first film," On The Bowery".

On The Bowery

"On The Bowery" was the first of Lionel Rogosin's Award winning films, garnering the Grand Prize at the 1956 Venice Film Festival as well as the British Award for Best Documentary the same year.

From the beginning, Rogosin's style as an independent filmmaker was straightforward and compassionate. His films, made "from the inside" showed the subjects he chose in their normal surroundings and allowed them to speak in their own words. By choosing ordinary people caught up in universal problems - homelessness, racial discrimination, war and peace, labor relations, and poverty-Rogosin made his point poignantly.

Come Back Africa

In 1958, Rogosin tackled the subject of Apartheid by filming the pioneering "Come Back Africa" on location in Johannesburg, unbeknownst to South African authorities who believed Rogosin was filming a benign musical travelogue.

The film focuses on the tragic story of a Zulu family trying desperately to stay together and survive. Instead, they are caught up in the contradictory laws of Apartheid. Bringing together some of South Africa's best known radical intellectuals Rogosin shot the film combining documentary footage and fiction. Come Back Africa is an indictment on the brutality which the system created. It was selected by Time Magazine as" one of the Ten Best Pictures of 1960" and launched the career of the unknown Miriam Makeba. "I'm a political filmmaker, and the effect of the film on people who see it is still strong today as when I made it" said Rogosin.

Bleecker Street Cinema

In spite of the attention that "Come Back Africa" received abroad, Rogosin was unable to find a commercial outlet for it in the USA and as a result, he decided to open his own showcase for independent films and revivals. Taking a ten-year lease on the Renata Theater in Greenwich Village, he spent $40,000 to renovate it, renamed it the Bleecker Street Cinema, and premiered "Come Back Africa" there on April 4,1960. He ran the cinema till 1974. It was to be one of the chartered cinemas of the group of filmmakers who met in New York and became the "New American cinema Group".

New American Cinema

In the late 50's and early 60's Lionel Rogosin was, with Jonas Mekas, one of the founding members of the New American Cinema group consisting of 23 independent filmmakers. They had created a manifesto emphasizing personal expression, rejection of censorship and the "abolition of the budget myth". Rather than a cohesive collective, the New American Cinema was a diffuse band of New -York based filmmakers, photographers, painters, dancers, actors and artists. The group met frequently at the Bleecker Street cinema in its early days.

Good Times, Wonderful Times

"Good Times, Wonderful Times" is Rogosin's plea for humanity against war and fascism. The film took two years of travel to twelve countries and permission to use their war archives before it was released in 1964, at the height of the Vietnam War. In it, mundane chatter at a London cocktail party is interspersed with graphic wartime footage, satirizing the tragic irresponsibility of the modern man. It won the Cine Forum Award as the official British entry for feature film at the 1965 Venice film festival.

Artists Protest and Case against the Networks (1965-1967)
As well as producing and directing films Lionel Rogosin was actively involved in trying to improve and change the world around him. In 1965 while working on "Good Times, Wonderful Times" he interviewed and supported the work of Bertrand Russell against the war in Vietnam and, at the same time, organized with his partner James Vaughan the "European Artist's Protest" on December 12,1965. This was a full page statement against the Vietnam war, published in the New York Times on Aug.1, 1965 and endorsed by 36 leading British artists and intellectuals ranging from Peter O'Toole to Kenneth Clark.

Black Roots, Black Fantasy, Woodcutters
(1972- 1974)

Rogosin turned his talent to support Black liberation, producing and directing "Black Roots", "Black Fantasy", and "Woodcutters of the Deep South". These three Rogosin films, which have been widely seen on European television, are practically unknown to the American television audience.

In "Black Roots", set in the intimacy of a small cafe, five individuals exchange biographical anecdotes and make music in a compelling and honest distillation of Black history and culture.

"Black Fantasy", is a personal account of one man's conflict in love and life,based on the true experiences of Jim Collier, a young black American musician married to a white woman.

Rogosin filmed "Woodcutters of the Deep South" in the backwoods of Mississippi and Alabama. We follow the story through the eyes of the poor black and white working people who are organizing themselves against corporate exploitation.

It would seem that the Rogosin vision was too clear for the tastes of commercial sponsors. Thomas Hardy's words to the London Corresponding Societies in 1796 could be directed to Lionel Rogosin: "You are wrestling with the enemies of the human race, not for yourself merely, for you may not see the full day of liberty, but for the child hanging at the breast."

Arab-Israeli Dialogue -
Bleecker Street and Impact Films

In 1974 "Arab -Israeli Dialogue" was made. It was to be the last film produced and directed by Lionel Rogosin. Produced in the basement office of Impact films under the Bleecker street Cinema, it was made on a shoestring budget.

That same year Rogosin sold the Bleecker street Cinema,after having been its founder and running it since 1960. This cinema had become a legend in the history of New York and many filmmakers received their education there, where they had access to a wide-ranging program of classic films or cutting-edge works, from Kenneth Anger, Joris Ivan to many others. Despite financial stress and difficulties Lionel Rogosin owned, directed and kept the Bleecker StreetCinema running for 14 years during what is considered its heydays.

Case against the Networks

On September 18,1973, Lionel Rogosin met with Edith Tiger of the National Emergency Civil Liberties Foundation and raised many questions about the Fairness Doctrine, the First Amendment and access for independent filmmakers to the media.

On November 1, 1976,The National Emergency Civil Liberties Foundation made a study of the right of access of private filmmakers to public programming. This study was based upon information that many filmmakers produced films on issues of public importance but found that television engaged in a form of censorship by refusing to show films made by these filmmakers, especially on controversial subjects.

In 1977, the NECLF testified before the Subcommittee on Communications of the House of Representatives on the lack of diversity in commercial broadcasting and again on the lack of access to the independent documentary film people.

In 1977, Lionel Rogosin and the National Civil Liberties Union filled an amicus curiae brief in the Supreme Court on behalf of the National Citizens Committee for Broadcasting.

In 1978, they filed suit on behalf of 30 prominent documentary filmmakers. The citation of this case was Levitch vs. NBC, CBS and ABC. It was an anti-trust suit, filed in the Southern District of New York. The suit was heard in 1981. The action called for $180,000,000 in damages.Judge Duffy at the District Court level said the suit had standing and that they could proceed with it but on very narrow issues.TheNECLF and film makers appealed his decision and lost.Although the courts decided against this suit, in the public arena they won. The networks were now showing works of independent producers-not enough, but more than they ever had.

Impact Films

Impact films was another ground-breaking initiative that distributed to Universities and cultural organizations important work unavailable elsewhere, such as the Czech New Wave Cinema. Rogosin started Impact Films in 1966 in order to distribute the films he was showing at the Bleecker Street as well as other films. It became an organ for anti-war and civil rights films.

In the words of the Impact Catalog:"Impact films is proud to present its catalog of documentary, experimental and feature films, including some of the world's finest socially and politically conscious cinema". The catalogue had hundreds of films, which eventually found their way into the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

In 1978 L. Rogosin sold Impact films, which he had founded in 1966.

Exile and Unfunded/Unmade Film Projects
Never without an idea or a film project,in the 60's Rogosin hired V.S Naipaul to collaborate on a West Indian film called "A Flag on the Island".It was never made but later became a book. Later in the 70's two projects were particularly dear to him: "Noa Noa" (the life of Paul Gauguin) and "The Big Apple" (about police brutality in the city) written with Jack Briley(screenwriter for the film "Gandhi"). Neither project was produced. "Bitter Water" dealing with the Navajo Indians was also lost for lack of funding

Hoping to find more support abroad -financial and otherwise -, Lionel Rogosin went to Brazil.In 1983 he began working with the screen writer Leopoldo Serrana on a feature length musical-comedy called "Viver".Unable to raise enough money he returned to New York at the end of 1985.Shortly after he moved to England where he continued to develop his ideas and present film projects. He lived in London for many years with little support except from Nicholas Kent and the Tricycle theatre.

Disillusioned and ill he returned to Connecticut and then went to Los Angeles.There Lionel Rogosin kept writing essays and scripts. In his last 15 years of life his writing activity increased and covered many subjects form a wide range of essays to book projects.

He died on December 8, 2000 and was buried in the Forever Hollywood cemetery on Santa Monica Boulevard in Los Angeles.

No Support
Not with standing retrospectives from MOMA to Beaubourg in Paris and numerous European TV screenings as well as festivals, Lionel Rogosin received little support for his numerous and important ideas. After "Arab-Israeli Dialogue" he was never able to make another film but he left us scripts, essays, an autobiography and several book projects and the legacy of his life: never swerving from his commitment to his ideals and uncompromisingly so. As he was way ahead of his time politically and in his perceptions we are still catching up with him and have much to discover.

The time has come to recognize Lionel Rogosin's important contribution as a "Visionary American, humanitarian and filmmaker".

Imagine Peace
One of Lionel Rogosin's last projects was: "a series of films for television that would trace the evolution and history of the forces of war and peace since 1914, not just as a series of dramatic events, but as an investigation of the causes and motivations behind these destructive explosions in human affairs". While in Los Angeles he continued to work on a project to create an internet-based website for peace with London based filmmaker Malcolm Hart.

From a letter by L. Rogosin: His sense of political and historical humour! (1997)


Thank you for your thoughtful letter. I understand your difficulties with the realities of the market. I've had the same problem for many years.

I am writing to you about a new project. It has an awesome scope and therefore I plan to do it in sections. The overall subject is 9000 years of imperialism. This probably sounds like a Mel Brooks joke. The first volume will be the culmination of U.S. imperialism during the Viet Nam War. There now seems to be a nostalgia for the 60s in the U.S. and more and more evidence i.e. emerging about the FBI, CIA, NIXON, KISSINGER subversion of the U.S. constitution.

I will soon have 2 chapters completed. 1) The First Thanksgiving: The predisposition of the first European colonialists to the first resort to violence in the conflict with the native Americans in the expropriation of their land and the cultural structure of European society which made genocide inevitable. 2) Mark Twain's role at the beginning of the 20th century as a social critic and a member of the ANTI-IMPERIALIST LEAGUE. U.S. actions in Cuba and the Philippines began a new phase in U.S. imperialism on a world scale.

If you have an interest in such a book please advise me at the above Fax# or address.

Yours Sincerely,

Lionel Rogosin


3 files


  • Arterial network
  • Media, Sports and Entertainment Group (MSE)
  • Gens de la Caraïbe
  • Groupe 30 Afrique
  • Alliance Française VANUATU
  • Zimbabwe : Culture Fund Of Zimbabwe Trust
  • RDC : Groupe TACCEMS
  • Rwanda : Positive Production
  • Togo : Kadam Kadam
  • Niger : ONG Culture Art Humanité
  • Collectif 2004 Images
  • Africultures Burkina-Faso
  • Bénincultures / Editions Plurielles
  • Africiné
  • Afrilivres

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