NEWS RELEASE, 10/21/98

Albert Johnson, UC Berkeley senior lecturer and internationally known film critic, dies at age 73

By Janet Gilmore, Public Affairs

BERKELEY -- Albert Johnson, a senior lecturer in the African American Studies Department at the University of California, Berkeley, and an internationally known film critic, died suddenly on Saturday (Oct. 17). He was 73.

Johnson is known as much for his work on campus, where his film courses were especially popular among students, as he is for his work in the local community heading the San Francisco International Film Festival and the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame in Oakland.

He was in Chicago for a film festival this past weekend when he suffered a heart attack.

"The African American Studies Department was shocked and saddened by his passing," said Percy Hintzen, chair of the department. "It was totally unexpected. It is a great loss to the department and to the university."

Johnson was born in New York City on May 9, 1925. He received a bachelor's degree in English from UC Berkeley in 1954.

He was program director of the San Francisco International Film Festival from 1965 to 1972, a period in which the film festival was the most important event of its kind. Johnson created and presented "The Craft of Cinema," a series of annual tributes that brought scores of notable artists to the area, including Gene Kelly, Walt Disney, Judy Garland, John Huston, Bette Davis, Paul Newman and Frank Capra.

He continued to work with the festival in later years, serving as festival director in 1980 and 1981 and as a consultant as recently as 1987.

"He pioneered this interest in Third World cinema and films from emerging producers whom Americans had never heard of," said Peter Scarlet, artistic director for the film festival.

Johnson also was deeply involved with Oakland's Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, from its beginnings in 1972 to the present.

"We were tied together," said Mary Perry Smith, a founder of the Hall of Fame. "We always felt confident in the work we did in film history because we could always count on him to give his opinions if we had any questions. Now that resource is lost and it's irreplaceable."

Johnson taught film at UCLA and San Francisco State College during the 1960s. In 1974, he joined what was then called UC Berkeley's Afro-American Studies Department, teaching courses in "Third World Cinema" and "The Afro-American and the World of Cinema," among others.

His classes at UC Berkeley have remained especially popular with students throughout the years.

"He taught the most popular course in this department, the courses were always oversubscribed," said Hintzen. "He did bring a diverse student body to the department."

But the courses were not for fun. Johnson did not want his students to view film as simple entertainment. The course work was rigorous, and Johnson attempted to expand his students' knowledge of differing cultures, countries and communities.

Indeed Johnson had developed a strong personal interest in international film and especially works involving Third World countries, African Americans and ethnic minorities in general, colleagues said.

In addition, he particularly enjoyed serving as a consultant and film critic at venues around the world, including the Cannes International Film Festival in France; the Berlin International Film Festival in Germany; and the Venice International Film Festival in Italy.

Johnson's career began in the late 1950s when he wrote, directed and performed in original musical revues and co-founded and edited perhaps the first serious film journal in America, UC Berkeley's "Film Quarterly."

During the 1960s he helped bring serious programs and exhibitions of international and American film artists' work to UC Berkeley, including the complete study of works by Federico Fellini, Alfred Hitchcock and Laurence Olivier.

Colleagues are planning a memorial service for November to celebrate Johnson's life.

Most of Johnson's relatives live in New York, where he grew up, and the family will hold memorial services there on Tuesday, Oct. 27, at Benta's Funeral Home in New York City. For more information on the family's service, contact Benta's at (212) 281-8850.

Johnson is survived by a brother; a sister; a brother-in-law; and a nephew.

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