Project Description

James Rutenbeck

Portrait of James Rutenbeck

FSC-LEF Fellowship 2019-20

James Rutenbeck’s films have explored the lives of unemployed coal miners, small farmers and itinerant evangelists. His 1999 film Raise the Dead portrays Appalachian holiness preachers practicing a grassroots tradition in the shadow of televangelism. The hour-long nonfiction film was awarded “Best Independent Film” at the New England Film Festival in 2000 and was the only U.S. film selected for competition at Cinema du Reel in Paris that same year. His 1989 film Losing Ground, also a Cinema du Reel selection, is a psychological portrait of an Iowa family facing the loss of a family farm. His first film Company Town (1984) is a meditation on the past and present in a former Appalachian coal town.

Rutenbeck’s body of work was featured at the 2003 Robert Flaherty International Film Seminar. His films have also been programmed at the Museum of Fine Arts and Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston, Museum of Modern Art, National Gallery, Double Take Documentary Film Festival, Margaret Mead Film and Video Festival, Lussas International Film Festival, Independent Film Festival of  Boston, Black Maria and others.

James’ feature-length film, Scenes from a Parish, about a diverse group parishioners in a Catholic parish undergoing demographic change, aired on the PBS series Independent Lens in 2009. James was awarded a Alfred I. du Pont Columbia Journalism Award for his work as Producer and Director of Not Just A Paycheck, an episode of the PBS series “Unnatural Causes,” about health disparities in the United States.. Not Just A Paycheck examines the health consequences of the loss of 3000 jobs in a rural Michigan county.

James was Executive Producer of Class of ’27, a series of three short films about the lives of young children in economically distressed parts of rural America.  Class of ’27 was an Editor’s Pick at The Atlantic and aired on America Reframed in 2016. Class of ’27 was honored with an Alfred I. du Pont Columbia Journalism Award in January 2018. James is currently at work on inVisible, a nonfiction feature film.

Editing credits include broadcast documentaries for PBS, BBC, Channel Four (UK), Discovery Channel and Showtime. They include Jimmy CarterZoot Suit Riots and the ALMA award-winning Roberto Clemente for American Experience, Peabody Award winning Deej for America ReFramed and the groundbreaking People of the Shining Path for Britain’s Channel Four.

Mr. Rutenbeck was awarded a 2007 Sundance Institute Documentary Fund grant and is a six-time recipient of artist fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council. He has received humanities grants from the Southern Humanities Media Fund and numerous state humanities councils. He received a Master of Science in Visual Arts from Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1984, where he studied filmmaking with cinema-vérité pioneer Richard Leacock.

FSC Works

Film Still from A Reckoning in Boston

A Reckoning in Boston

James Rutenbeck

Coming together at a night course at a community center, Kafi Dixon and Carl Chandler were seeking to transform their lives. When James Rutenbeck, a white suburban filmmaker comes to make a film about the school, he is forced to come to terms with his own complicity in racist structures in the community. Kafi and Carl come on board as producers of the film and the three bring to light the history of systemic racism that has spanned generations, along with its modern implications. A Recking in Boston shows that transformation, healing and social change begins within each of us.

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