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UNCW professor has film showing at Cine Noir festival

By Amy Hotz
Staff Writer
Published: Saturday, March 7, 2009 at 3:30 a.m.

Maurice Martinez, a professor at UNCW, has a film showing in the upcoming Cine Noir Film Festival.
The passions, sounds and colors of New Orleans run through the veins of Maurice M. Martinez.
He grew up there and his family, he says, has lived there so long, you can find the names of his ancestors in the city’s very first census.
But Martinez left The Big Easy with its segregation and unequal educational opportunities decades ago. In 1954, after earning a B.A. from Xavier University in New Orleans, he moved to Michigan for his M.A., spent two years in the army, returned to Michigan and finally ended up in New York where he taught courses in education.

There one night, as Martinez slept soundly in his bed, he heard the voice of his dead grandmother.
“It’s two or three days before Mardi Gras and she came to me in a dream. She says, ‘Get on down there.’ And I somehow got a flight down and I didn’t know what I was doing, but I took my camera and I got in the car and I just drove around,” he said. “And every time I saw an Indian, I took a picture.”
Those first dozen or so photos of Mardi Gras Indians, and several return trips over four years, won the heart of the “Big Chief of the Yellow Pocahontas,” Tootie Montana.

With Montana’s permission, Martinez acquired a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and began filming his first documentary, “The Black Indians of New Orleans” (1975).

That was the beginning.

This year, the Cine Noir Black Film Festival, will feature Martinez’s short, “Touché,” one of the latest of about one dozen films Martinez has shot in his lifetime. “Touché” will be featured along with other short films and features by black filmmakers from this area and across the country at the festival, which runs March 12-15.

The words in “Touché” are spoken by Martinez in a jazzy, poetic tempo to the sound of him playing bass thumb piano and a cuíca, a type of Brazilian drum. The two-mintue story ends with a surprise quip.

This is not his first work screened at Cine Noir. Martinez walked away with the Best Documentary award in 2005 and 2007. He’s completed eight films in the past four years.

“He keeps churning them out. And they’re very interesting subject matter,” said Rhonda Bellamy, festival president.

Bellamy said she believes one of the things that makes Martinez special is that he understands how important a “slice of life” can be. The subjects he covers and the people he interviews would be lost to posterity without his filmmaking, she said. And it’s important that these stories endure.
Between “Black Indians” and his most recent film, Martinez has seemed to stick with documentaries, short and long, about a variety of subjects. But they always seem to teach, which is another of his many passions. And that, too, runs through his blood. When asked about his race, Martinez says he always answers, “Hispanic Latino African AmerIndian French Seventh Ward New Orleans Creole.”

Those who first meet him may walk away from a conversation uncertain if he’s a teacher, musician or filmmaker.

The answer is he’s all of those. But no single passion seems to define him. They’re all rolled up in his good-natured personality, the wise proverbs that spontaneously roll out his mouth in any variety of languages and the kind eyes that squint when he’s particularly pleased with something.
His mother, who everyone called “The Dutchess,” founded The Martinez Nursery School in 1934, the first kindergarten for children of color in the state of Louisiana, Martinez said. It started with 15 children of friends and grew to more than 400 before Katrina destroyed it in 2005. It had been passed down to her younger son.

Martinez himself taught eight years in public high schools in New Orleans and 24 years at Hunter College, C.U.N.Y. in New York City before starting at the University of North Carolina Wilmington in 1994.

“I’d been absorbing for 24 years in New York and now I wanted to just relax and squeeze the sponge and let whatever comes out,” he said.
Martinez is a professor in the Donald R. Watson School of Education.

In New York, he wore an army field jacket and a pair of Timberland boots just to blend in. Life was tough for the kids and that made instruction tough for the teachers.

Here, life isn’t quite as challenging, but teaching is never easy.

Martinez lightly pounds his hand on the table for emphasis when he talks about how one-third of all new teachers leave the profession after three years. After five years, he says, about half leave.

Because teaching is a passion, he made a film about that, too. “No Teacher Left Behind” screened at UNCW just last week.

“You never know what imprints, how you have affected the lives of students,” he said. “That’s why I think teaching is the noblest of professions because you help people in many ways, giving them skills and knowledge and joy in their hearts to do and pursue whatever their life’s work might be.”
In all his films, whether it’s “No Teacher Left Behind” or “Touché,” you’ll notice the music. The beats he chooses seem to say as much about the emotions expressed as the words do. Martinez counts music as one more of his passions. In some music circles he’s known as “Marty Most Jazz Poet.”
While working from 1966 through 1968 as a research associate professor at the Universidad Federal da Bahia Brazil, he put together a “free jazz” band of three Bazilians and two Americans and did a 14-concert tour across the country.

Martinez played a bass he named Matilda.

“Whenever we had a conflict, and there were a few along the road, I would say, ‘Allow me, please to present my love, mi amor . . . She has a forma fina . . . And she sings in four voices, or four chords. But she’s handicapped, she only has one foot, one leg, you know, the peg. And besides that, we have a ticket for her to sit next to me on the bus.’ ”

The film, “Drumscussion,” which Martinez produced in Wilmington, put Brazilian and New Orleans drummers in the same room and just letting them go.
“And what came out of that is just fabulous,” he said, squinting happily. “It’s wonderful. Life has been good to me, and I’m thankful that I can continue doing these stories that seem to pop up all over the place.”

After an hour and half-long interview on Mardi Gras day with Martinez, it was easy to see there were too many layers to peel. But one thing is clear: Martinez is a man who is passionate about life – and not afraid to show it.



From Campus Digest -

Maurice Martinez: To celebrate Black History Month, the latest documentary from Maurice M. Martinez, Too White to be Black, Too Black to be White: The New Orleans Creole was shown in the Cultural Arts Building Recital Hall on Feb.2, 2007. Martinez, a gifted and prolific poet, photographer, musician, filmmaker and professor, tells stories of race in America from the inside out: what it is like to live on America’s margins. Often marginalization produces amazing creativity, community, fun and joy, but just as often, rejection, isolation and loss of opportunity. Martinez’ art captures both the joy and the pathos of the American experience of race-related marginalization. His perspectives are arresting. If you missed this documentary, do not miss another. Martinez’ work is available on loan from W.M. Randall Library.



Local films, national importance 


Last weekend’s Cine Noir festival of films by or about black Americans had a local flavor. Three of the movies were made by Wilmingtonians, one highlighted Wilmington jazz musician Percy Heath and another featured Tabor City newspaperman Horace Carter, who had the courage to defy the Ku Klux Klan in the days when that could cost you your life.

Two entries in this increasingly impressive local festival were of particular note, at least to an editor who wishes he’d seen more.
The Marines of Montford Point, a documentary by retired UNCW history professor and administrator Melton McLaurin and retired Brunswick schools administrator and Marine Clarence Willie, tells the little-noticed story of the racial integration of the Marine Corps.

The first black Marines since the American Revolution trained separately from whites at the Montford Point portion of Camp Lejeune in the 1940s. For young men from other parts of the country, it was their first experience with legal segregation. They were insulted on the base and off. Their officers were white. A commandant of the Corps belittled them.

But they proved themselves in World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Their achievements and determination helped break down racial barriers - in the military and in civilian life.

Too White To Be Black, Too Black to Be White is a beautiful valentine to the creole culture of New Orleans, shot and produced by one of its sons, UNCW’s multi-talented Maurice Martinez. Listed in the credits are university colleagues, staffers at WHQR and homegrown saxophonist Bennie Hill.
The photography, the music and, most of all, the gloriously Mix-Mastered people Martinez interviews, make a poignant portrait of a place and a people soon to be overwhelmed by Katrina.

His subjects were scattered by the storm, and some have died, according to Martinez. A feisty widow, 98 at the time she regaled his camera, is healthy, living in Texas and planning to go home. But, he says, “It won’t be the same as I showed it there.”

The Marines may be shown on public TV at some point. Too White To Be Black should be, too. Neither is to be missed.



Cine Noir sensation

Thanking God at awards ceremonies is typically the way filmmakers go, but Maurice Martinez took a different course of action when his documentary The Quorum won the top prize in its category at the fourth annual Cine Noir: A Festival of Black Film this weekend.

“I want to thank Satan,” he said in his acceptance speech. “If it weren’t for his vices of bigotry, racism and prejudice, this film would not have been possible.”

The Quorum tells the story of happenings at a New Orleans coffeehouse in 1964 when police arrested 73 people for “crimes” such as playing guitars out of tune, engaging in conversations without conclusions and disturbing the peace.

Mr. Martinez, a professor of Specialty Studies at the University of North Carolina Wilmington, also won with this film at the local Sometime in October Film Festival last year.

Other Cine Noir winners were The Industry and Still Black, At Yale in the documentary category. Short film winners were In Time, The Male Groupie and A Spoonful of Sugar.

“We’ve had really respectable houses,” said Rhonda Bellamy, who programs the festival along with Chad Handley. Cine Noir increased attendance this year and more than 10 filmmakers came to the festival.

The biggest crowd was the 130 or so people who came on Sunday for the awards ceremony and a documentary about Wilmington athlete Rondro.
Local Anthony Hemingway, who graduated from Laney High School in 1993 and was the youngest member of the Directors Guild of America at 19, was Cine Noir’s 2005 Trailblazer honoree.

Mr. Hemingway, who was a first assistant director on The Wire, grew up in the business. His mother, Eleanor Nichols, is a member of the local filmmaking community.

He is now working on a pilot for NBC, a prequel to The French Connection called NY 70.



La Vida No Es Facil Premieres to Packed House

UNCW Newsletter - Announcements


A total of 265 people attended the Feb. 10 premiere screening of La Vida No Es Facil (Life is Not Easy), a new documentary film by Maurice Martinez, professor of specialty studies in the Watson School of Education. Three adjoining classrooms in the Education Building had to be expanded to accommodate the celebration.

The documentary examines the issue of the ineligibility of undocumented immigrants for in-state tuition at North Carolina’s public universities and how this situation affects the lives of college-aged Latino students. Martinez examines this controversial topic through the stories of three such students who were born to poor farm workers in Mexico. They have spent much of their lives in the U.S. and are struggling to find the financial resources to attend college.

Two of the students featured in the film, Luis Sanchez, 18, and Maribel Gomez, 20, attended the event. In the film, Sanchez describes his feelings after realizing that he could not afford to go to college after he had already been accepted to the Savannah College of Art and Design. “This really upset me when there are so many other people who have the chance [to go to college] and they never take advantage of it and I, who would be willing to take advantage of this opportunity, can’t go because I wasn’t born here.”

After the showing, Martinez introduced Sanchez, Gomez and UNCW Board of Trustees member R. Allen Rippy, who is also featured in the documentary. Rippy presented the two with applications to UNCW for which he had paid the application fee. He pledged to do whatever he can to assist them in finding the financial resources to attend the university and to work to address the general issue of in-state tuition for undocumented immigrant



Wilmington Premiere Screening of Too White to be Black, Too Black to be White: The New Orleans Creole


Wilmington, N.C. - In celebration of Black History Month, University of North Carolina Wilmington announces a free screening of Too White to be Black, Too Black to be White: The New Orleans Creole, a documentary written, directed and produced by Maurice Martinez. A musical performance by jazz artist Benny Hill will begin at 6:30 p.m., followed by the film screening at 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 2. Both events will take place in the recital hall of the UNCW Cultural Arts Building.

According to Martinez, this documentary is the first authentic treatment of a group of Americans who proudly identify themselves as “Creoles.” It provides first-hand accounts of their experiences in New Orleans, by examining a group of marginalized mixed-race Americans who are phenotypically both multicultural and multiethnic. The two-part documentary made its world premiere in November at La Creole Conference in New Orleans and has a running time of 82 minutes.

Martinez, a Creole native son of New Orleans, is a professor in the UNCW Watson School of Education. When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, a documentary on Hurricane Katrina directed and produced by Spike Lee featured film footage by Martinez.

Martinez also produced La Vida No Es Facil (Life is Not Easy), a documentary examining the issue of the ineligibility of undocumented immigrants for in-state tuition at North Carolina’s public universities and how this situation affects the lives of college-aged Latino students. He has done extensive work on the origins of Indians in New Orleans. He hosted “Blue Notes,” a 15-part series that highlighted jazz, blues and R&B musicians from North Carolina, that aired on WHQR and other public radio stations throughout the state. He previously produced The Quorum, a true story about social change and racial integration in New Orleans in 1963.

Jazz saxophonist Benny Hill is a familiar figure to most local music enthusiasts, he has played all over Wilmington and with many different lineups, including the popular former local jazz-fusion group Organix and currently with his trio including Doug Irving (bass) and Jerald Shynett
This event is made possible by the combined support of the UNCW Department of Music, the Upperman African American Center, the Office of Campus Diversity and the Watson School of Education.

Maurice Martinez may be contacted at martinezm(at) or 910.962.4279.



La Vida No Es Facil (Life is Not Easy) Examines Plight of Undocumented Immigrants
WILMINGTON, NC - Should undocumented immigrants be eligible for in-state tuition at North Carolina’s public universities?

In his new documentary, La Vida No Es Facil(Life is Not Easy), Maurice Martinez examines this controversial topic by telling the plight of three college-aged Latino students who were born in Mexico and attended public school in North Carolina. These undocumented immigrants are children of poor farm workers and struggle to pay out-of-state tuition to attend state colleges and universities.

Martinez, a University of North Carolina Wilmington professor of specialty studies in the Watson School of Education, says, “Children should not be punished for the impoverished human condition of their parents. America’s most neglected resource is low-income students in higher education.”

La Vida No Es Facil will premiere at 7 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 10 in room 162 of the School of Education building on the campus of UNCW. The screening is free and open to the public with a running time of one hour. A mariachi band will be playing live music and Mexican food will be served.

Martinez has done extensive work for many years on the origins of Indians in New Orleans. He hosted “Blue Notes,” a 15-part series that highlighted jazz, blues and R&B musicians from North Carolina, that aired on WHQR and other public radio stations throughout the state. He previously produced The Quorum, a true story about social change and racial integration in New Orleans in 1963.

Dr. Maurice Martinez may be contacted at martinezm(at) or 910.962.4279.

Note to Media: If you would like an advance (DVD) copy of La Vida No Es Facil, please contact Caroline Cropp, UNCW media relations specialist, at 910.962.7109.


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