Phyllis R. Klotman, Black Movie Archivist, Dies at 90

Phyllis Klotman, right, with Frances Stubbs and Gloria Gibson at the Black Film Center/Archive in 1986.
Phyllis Klotman, right, with Frances Stubbs and Gloria Gibson at the Black Film Center/Archive in 1986. (Indiana University Black Film Center/Archive)

Phyllis R. Klotman, a film scholar who helped unearth lost treasures of African-American cinema and established a major archive devoted to their preservation and study, died on March 30 at her home in Manhattan. She was 90.

Her daughter, Janet K. Cutler, confirmed the death.

At her death, Professor Klotman was an emeritus professor in the department of African American and African Diaspora Studies at Indiana University in Bloomington. There, in 1981, she created the Black Film Center/Archive, the first significant repository of its kind in the United States.

Professor Klotman, who wrote and lectured widely on black cinema, founded what became the journal Black Camera. She convened symposiums and screenings, and championed the work of contemporary black filmmakers.

“She was one of the first to preserve black independent films, and in doing that, she encouraged us,” Charles Burnett, one of the most acclaimed black independent filmmakers of the postwar period, said in a telephone interview on Thursday. “One of the first forums that we had was at her school. And for many of us, it was the first time that we had some exposure on this level, in a university setting.”

One of her department’s few white members, Professor Klotman became interested in black film history in the 1960s, while writing her doctoral dissertation on African-American literature at what is now Case Western Reserve University.

Seeking visual representations of black people in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, she learned of the existence of a body of work — long scattered, little known and unpreserved — by early black filmmakers.

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SOURCE: The New York Times