Richmond filmmaker’s latest work on D.C. sculptor hits close to home

Richmond filmmaker’s latest work on Black sculptor hits close to home
Filmmaker Doug Harris (All photos contributed)

By Mike Kinney

After creating more than 20 documentaries over several decades, from films shining a light on the history of North Richmond to the Emmy-nominated “Out: The Glen Burke Story” – about Major League Baseball’s first openly gay player – filmmaker Doug Harris takes a lot of pride in what his compelling films have taught others.

In in newest work, “Uzikee: Washington DC’s Ancestral Sculptor,” Harris has managed the same feat, while also learning a little bit about himself.

Harris’ new documentary, set to be featured at the Virtual Movie Theater at on Saturday, Feb 20, at 6 p.m., focuses on ground-breaking sculptor Allen Uzikee Nelson, whose work in public spaces and parks in D.C. honors Black pioneers such as Paul Robeson, Thurgood Marshall, Marcus Garvey, and Malcolm X. The film explores Nelson’s journey, including the socio-economic and political climate within which the artist rose to prominence, but it also does much to tell Harris’ own story.

That’s because Nelson, also an engineering professor at the University of District Columbia and humanitarian, happens to be Harris’ uncle. Telling Nelson’s story “gave me an opportunity to tell a little about the story of my family’s history,” Harris said.

“I think that might be where I inherited some of my creativity as an artist,” he added.

While Nelson’s African-inspired art influenced the landscape in D.C., Harris’ own work has similarly influenced the landscape here in Richmond.

In 1999, the Berkeley-raised Harris founded the Digital Technology Academy, a 10-week media arts program benefiting North Richmond teens that continued until 2016. Students from that program would assemble to produce the award-winning documentary series “An Exploration of Our History” and, later, the program produced the documentary, “North Richmond: Past, Present and Future.”

One of his favorite projects was documenting over 10 years of organizing efforts of the Richmond Improvement Association through the Rev. Andre Shumake, Sr., who aimed to address the city’s high homicide rate.

“That really was some very important work in the early development of the Office of Neighborhood Safety,” Harris said, speaking of the award-winning anti-gun violence program that has been replicated in other cities. “It made me realize how important it was to document positive work being done in the community.”

Doug Harris teaching youth at the Digital Technology Academy.

From as far back as the ‘90s, when he worked for the City of Richmond Human Services Dept. videotaping various programs and events at community centers he managed, until this very day, as he’s working on videos for the Richmond Museum of History and Culture and the Richmond Public Library’s Teen program, Harris work is ever-present in the community.

His body of work, however, stretches beyond West County and runs the gamut of life experiences, from community to political to civil rights, sports and entertainment.

His films include: “Bounce: The Don Barksdale Story,”  “Fair Legislation: The Byron Rumford Story,” “Basketball Guru: The Pete Newell Story” and “Basketball in the Barrio.” 

Harris achieved an Emmy nomination after directing and producing the 2010 documentary on Glenn Burke in partnership with Comcast Sports Net and NBC Universal.

“I basically hope to continue having these special opportunities to create and produce meaningful media that everyone can learn and benefit from, and documentary filmmaking has been my way of expressing true life stories and experiences,” Harris said.

Harris graduated from Berkeley High, earned his Bachelor of Arts from New College of California in San Francisco, and a Masters in Interdisciplinary Studies at the CSU-Monterey, where he learned under Professor Luis Valdez at the University’s Teledramatic Art and Technology Institute.