Visiting Artist in Residence
Primary Academic Program: Film and Electronic Arts
Biography:BA, MFA, University of California, Los Angeles. Charles Burnett is an internationally acclaimed filmmaker and 2017 recipient of a Governors Award (honorary Oscar) from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. His films have been lauded for their poetic storytelling and incisive observations of class, race, and social relationships. His first feature film, Killer of Sheep, which depicts the problems confronting working class African Americans in South Central, California, was originally submitted as his master’s thesis at UCLA. Hailed as “an American masterpiece” by Manohla Dargis of the New York Times, Killer of Sheep was selected for preservation by the Library of Congress’s National Film Registry in 1990. The narrative and documentary films that followed—My Brother’s Wedding; To Sleep with Anger (added to the National Film Registry in 2017); The Glass Shield; Selma, Lord, Selma; The Wedding; Nightjohn; Nat Turner: A Troublesome Property; and Annihilation of Fish, among them—form a body of work that many critics believe offers the richest and most expansive exploration of African American culture and history of any filmmaker of Burnett’s generation. The 2007 rerelease of Burnett’s first two films, theatrically and on DVD, augured a renewal of interest in his work and its discovery by a new and younger audience. In January 2008, his oeuvre was honored by the New York Film Critics Circle.
Burnett is the recipient of numerous awards and honors, including MacArthur, Rockefeller, and Guggenheim fellowships, as well as the Horton Foote Screenwriting Award. Killer of Sheep shared first prize at the Sundance Film Festival and was awarded a top prize at the Berlin International Film Festival. In 2006, a retrospective of Burnett’s films was presented at the Louvre as part of an exhibition on the theme of exile, curated by Nobel Prize–winning author Toni Morrison. Selected honors also include a Golden Thumb Award, Roger Ebert Film Festival; Career Achievement Award, Chicago International Film Festival; Paul Robeson Award, Howard University; Best Screenplay Award for To Sleep with Anger, National Society of Film Critics; and the American Film Institute’s Maya Deren Award, also for 1990’s To Sleep with Anger. Retrospectives of his work include: “The Power to Endure,” Museum of Modern Art (2011); “The Outsider,” Louvre Museum (2006), and “Witnessing for Everyday Heroes,” Film Society of Lincoln Center and Human Rights Watch International Film Festival (1997).
Burnett previously taught or mentored students at Richard Linklater’s screenwriting workshop in Austin, Texas; Howard University; California Institute of the Arts; and University of California, Berkeley. At Bard since 2018.