Donated to the Harvard Film Archive in 2003 by the late filmmaker’s wife, photojournalist Susan Meiselas, the Richard P. Rogers collection contains the films and outtakes of documentary filmmaker and Harvard professor Richard P. Rogers (1944-2001). Rogers studied photography as an undergraduate at Harvard and made his first films there in the 1970s. After graduating, he moved on to direct documentaries for public television and to teach at SUNY Purchase for many years. In the 1990’s Rogers returned to Harvard to teach filmmaking and serve as the director of the Film Study Center. Rogers’ well-known intellect and eclectic interests, ranging from politics to the arts, psychology, and cinema are reflected in the diversity of the films he made, from portraits of writers and filmmakers to an exploration of the aftermath of the Nicaraguan revolution. The films in the Richard P. Rogers collection span the decades of the seventies through the nineties. Rogers’ lifelong interest in the arts, whether in the form of painting, poetry or cinema, led him to create several unique portraits of artists and writers. Moving Pictures (1975) filmed at Harvard’s Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, follows the artist Jan Lenica while he creates an animated film on Harvard’s Oxberry. Voices and Visions: William Carlos Williams, (1988) is an endearing portrait of the poet and physician. Quarry (1970), captures Dick’s twin interests in the experimental and the documentary. The film documents the daily rituals of young men and women who meet and interact on the perimeter of the Quincy Quarry, diving, smoking and sunbathing during the early days of the Vietnam war. Elephants, 1973, is a personal examination of the director’s family intercut with the filmmaker’s love affairs and the recurring image of elephants caged in a zoo. Both of these films provide a unique look at the seventies in Boston and Cambridge, the clothing, architecture and zeitgeist of the time are evident in these films, the first capturing the working class culture of Quincy in the early 1970’s, the second recording the sensibilities of Cambridge and Harvard Square a few years later. In 226-1690, made in 1984, Rogers created an, experimental film in which he takes us into his NYC neighborhood and his circle of friends and family, letting us listen in to messages left on his answering machine over the course of a year. From the vantage point of the filmmaker’s New York apartment window, we see weddings take place in the church across the street, passersby struggling through the snow on the sidewalk, and we gradually become submerged in the meditative rhythms of Rogers’ interior world.
In 1979 Rogers made The Cost of Living, a documentary in which he interviews a Boston fireman, a wealthy Boston businessman, and a mixed race family, recording their responses to questions related to the meaning of money in their lives. This film, along with later films, reflects Rogers’ continuing interest in issues of economics and class in American life. William Kennedy’s Albany, made for television in 1992, is more than a portrait of an American author. Rogers stays true to his interests. While following the Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist William Kennedy (Billy Phelan's Greatest Game, Ironweed) through Albany's neighborhoods, he shows us a multi ethnic city still experiencing the effects of urban decline, and poverty. Pictures from a Revolution (1991), made with Susan Meiselas and Alfred Guzzetti, chronicles Meiselas’ return to Nicaragua ten years after she photographed the Sandinistas' overthrow of the Somoza regime, a project that became the book Nicaragua: June 1978-July 1979. Rogers', Meiselas' and Guzzetti's attempts to track down the individuals pictured in her book result in a memorable non-fiction film as they revisit the subjects of Meiselas’ photographs. Pictures from a Revolution is a meditation on the meaning of photography as well as a melancholic journey through the broken dreams of the Sandinista revolutionaries. From the Vietnam era through American participation in the Nicaraguan civil war, the Richard P. Rogers collection captures American history in a filmography of 242 films that represents the best traditions of documentary filmmaking.