Ray Garner
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Filming near the head of a statue, Abu Simbel, Egypt, ca. 1950                            Circa 1970

_____ . _____

Ray Garner – Producer/Director/Cinematographer/Writer

View Garner's Be-ta-ta-kin (House Under the Rim) (1947), Ancient World, The: Egypt (1951) and Ancient World, The: Greece (1954), Kibbutz Daphna (1964), Land of the Book (1967) and Gay Garner in Vulture Mountains, Arizona (home movie c. 1950)

Born in Brooklyn in 1913, Ray Garner began his photographic career in 1935, filming a Boy Scout climbing expedition in the Grand Tetons.  This 8mm effort has been lost.  In 1937, he was appointed to the position of staff photographer to the New York University Rainbow Bridge-Monument Valley expedition sponsored by the American Exploration Society. His first major film undertaking was an extended project in the Belgian Congo in 1938 where, with his wife and collaborator Virginia "Jinny" Garner, he made a series of ten African films for the Harmon Foundation, founded by real estate developer and former governor of Alaska William E. Harmon (1862-1928).  Active from 1922 to 1967, the foundation was established in New York City to recognize African American achievements, in the fine arts, business, education, farming, literature, music, race relations, religious service and science.  Its director was Mary Beattie Brady, who was the governess of Harmon's children, and later became well-known for her support of nurses' rights.  Brady financed the African films, as well as other Garner films, through 1956.  The Garners were not under formal contract, and never received a set yearly amount of financial support.  Jinny Garner reminisced that "the Harmon support was wonderful, but it wasn't always there on schedule.  The way it worked was we'd write a letter when we ran out of money, and sooner or later it would arrive."  The Garners would occasionally have to pawn their films to bide time, waiting for the check. Holdings of the Harmon Foundation, including its films, were donated to the National Archives (NARA) in Washington DC. In the filmography below, Garner that that were confirmed to be underwritten by the Harmon Foundation are indicated by a NARA record identifier.

From 1955 through 1958, Ray Garner traveled as a lecturer, illustrating his talks with his films.  He  began making films for NBC News in the early 1960s, and directed various segments in John Secondari's 'Saga of Western Man' series for ABC News in the early 1970s, including the film '1898.'  He eventually returned to lecturing, with his silent films accompanied by a phonograph or tape player supplying music, and lowering the volume when he wished to make a comment. In 1966, the Garners took up residence in the southern California mountain art community of Idyllwild. His lectures, as well as the courses in mountaineering he taught, supported the family.

Garner was an intellectual and an adventurer.  He learned to pilot an aircraft so he could better understand the technology for his 1941 training film 'How to Fly a Light Airplane,' which featured the African-American Tuskegee airmen.  Later, he flew in WWII as an Army pilot in the Air Transport Command. He was a member of the American Alpine Club, leading climbs in North America, Europe, and Africa. He was the first mountaineer to successfully climb Brussels Peak, in the Canadian Rockies.  A free-thinker, he made several films for religious institutions, purely for financial reasons.  

One defining element of Garner's filmmaking technique consisted of long takes of ruins, beautiful color shots made with the film running at slow speed, allowing sunshine and shadows to pass over ruins, providing spectacular footage when  run at normal speed. He shot much of his footage before Greece, Egypt, Jordan, Syria, and Israel were inundated by tourism, and no people appear in his footage of ancient architectural sites. Much of this extraordinary footage, now in the collection of the Academic Film Archive of North America, was never made into a finished film. Two that were produced and distributed, his Egyptian and Greek films, include his static shots of ruins, alternating light and dark, as clouds pass, resplendent in the Technicolor prints he insisted upon for distribution.  Garner used orchestral soundtracks in nearly all his released films, and his editing to soundtrack is seen to its greatest extent in his 'Portraits in Music' films.

Ray Garner passed away in 1989.  He was a true auteur, whose greatest contribution to academic film was in his breathtaking cinematography, honed to a fine point in his films on Egypt and Greece.  The AFA hosted an evening dedicated to the work of Garner on March 27, 2003. Virginia Garner passed away in 2007. The diaries of her experiences filming with Ray Garner in Africa as part of the Africa Motion Picture Project have now been compiled in a book, Images Out of Africa.


(Garner made a number of films to accompany his lectures. These films were never released commercially. The films indicated below by an asterisk *  are believed to be among these.)

Mountaineering in the Tetons (1935)

Rainbow Bridge, The: Monument Valley Expedition (1937) NYU

Africa Film Project  (10 films) Harmon Foundation. Titles include:

bulletChildren of Africa (1938)
bulletHow an African Tribe is Ruled Under Colonial Government (1938)
bulletNgono and Her People (1938)
bulletStory of Bwamba, The (1939)
bulletWhat a Missionary Does in Africa (1938)
bulletDay in an African Village, A (1939)
bulletLight Shines in Bakubaland, The (1939)
bulletMission Achievements in Central Africa (1939)
bulletSong After Sorrow (1939) the story of an American doctor's efforts in an African leper colony
bulletWorld's Stake in Africa, The (1939)

Hills and the Sea: A Portrait in Music
(1940) Harmon Foundation, filmed on Martha's Vineyard, MA.

On the Farm (1940), 10m, b&w, silent. About a farm family in Michigan. Reel 1: Illustrates pre-breakfast chores; family breakfast; father and son mow field; mother and daughter feed chickens, and pick fruit and vegetables for family. Reel 2: Boy drives horse-drawn hay loader while father and helper stack hay on wagon and into hayloft. Children play in hay. Father and son plow and reap wheat; men drive pigs into wagon; children wave as wagon leaves. Children gather eggs and accompany father, with his produce, home at day's end. Harmon Foundation. http://research.archives.gov/description/94937

* Smokies (1940).  Thought to be a Harmon Foundation film, but unable to confirm.

From Every Mountainside: the Story of the Pine Mountain Settlement School
(1941), color, silent. Harmon Foundation, an experimental school for mountain children in Kentucky. http://research.archives.gov/description/94881

Hampton Institute Presents Its Program Education for Life (1941), 10m, color, silent. Filmed at Hampton Institute, premiered in the White House by Eleanor Roosevelt;  Harmon Foundation. http://research.archives.gov/description/94892

Land of the Sky
(1941), 10m, color, sound. A musical short filmed in the Great Smoky Mountains, Tennessee; Harmon Foundation. http://research.archives.gov/description/94911

Southern Mountains (1941?), 10m, b&w, silent. Uncredited, but thought to be produced by Garner. On life in the Southern Mountains areas of Kentucky and Tennessee. Scenic shots of mountains and homes. Townspeople pose, sew, spin wool, and make wood-carvings. Farmers with pigs and chickens. Coal mining in Harlan, Kentucky. Lumberjacks cut and process trees at mill in Crossville, Tenn. Men build house. People on porch of Community House, Wooten, Ky. (?). Woman sings and plays dulcimer. Harmon Foundation. http://research.archives.gov/description/94997

On Our Way (1942), 10m, color, silent. Uncredited, but thought to be produced by Garner. On improvement of living conditions in Pine Mountain and Harlan, Ky. R.1: Shows mountains, houses and coal mining areas; children outside billiard parlor; and several school-houses. Harmon Foundation. http://research.archives.gov/description/95007

How to Fly a Light Airplane (1942) Made at Tuskegee Institute, with Tuskegee Airmen. Thought to be a Harmon Foundation film, but unable to confirm.

Let's Cooperate (1942), 10m, color, silent. On operations of cooperative food stores run by 10th grade students at Pine Mountain Settlement School, Ky. Harmon Foundation. http://research.archives.gov/description/94915

Creative Hands
(1945) 10m, color, silent. On mountain handicrafts in North Carolina. Contrasts rural and urban dwellers' use of leisure time. Harmon Foundation.  http://research.archives.gov/description/94861

* Desert Shore: a Portrait in Music (1946), 20m, color, sound. Filmed in Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico. Probably shot as a non-Harmon film during excursion that produced the Harmon films 'Los Niños.'

Los Niños (The Children)
(1946), 10m, color, silent. A study of a Mexican primary school in Guaymas, Sonora, Mexico. Harmon Foundation. http://research.archives.gov/description/95053

Pointed Mountains, The
(1946), 10m, color. Shows flowers, animals, streams and snow-capped mountains reaching into the clouds, filmed in the Grand Tetons; Harmon Foundation. http://research.archives.gov/description/95062

Be-ta-ta-kin (House Under the Rim)
(1947), 10m, color, sound. Arizona Anasazi cliff dwellings. Harmon Foundation. http://research.archives.gov/description/94999

Canyon Depths: a Portrait in Music (1947), 10m, color, sound. A musical short filmed in Havasu Canyon, Grand Canyon National Park. Produced by the Arizona Motion Picture Corporation.

* Coastline
(1947), 30m, color, sound. A musical short, the Pacific Coast from Canada to Mexico.

Mountain, The
(1947), 40m, color, silent. A film on mountain-climbing in Grand Teton National Park, Wyo. Glenn Exum, Virginia Garner, and Paul Petzoldt demonstrate mountaineering techniques and equipment. They reach the peak, shake hands, and rappel and glissade to base of mountain. Harmon Foundation. http://research.archives.gov/description/95006

* Ramparts, The: a Portrait in Music
(1947) filmed in Alberta's Canadian Rockies.

Shining Mountains, The
(1947) color, silent. Glacier National Park; Harmon Foundation. http://research.archives.gov/description/95066

Hills and the Sea
(1948)10m, 20m, color, sound. Harmon Foundation, filmed in Martha's Vineyard, a musical short. http://research.archives.gov/description/94894

Mesa Verde (1948) color, silent. Mountains; homes hewn in cliff-face; flowers and trees. Archaeological finds include pottery, sculpture and handicrafts. Paintings depict ancient Indian life in the area. Mesa Verde National Park, Colorado, Harmon Foundation. http://research.archives.gov/description/95065

Mountaineering in the Desert
(1948) senior Boy Scout climbing activities in southern Arizona; Thought to be a Harmon Foundation film, but unable to confirm.

Desert, The  (Exploring the Southwest) 
(1949) 30m, color, silent. On mountain and desert areas in Arizona and Utah where producer-photographers Ray and Virginia Garner explore and mountain-climb. Reel l: Shows terrain of land and clouds. Close-ups of flowers and insects, including a colony of ants Garners campsite and station wagon along roads. Mountain-climbers camp; Ray and other men mountain-climb. Odd rock formations. Reel 2: Virginia in speedboat with guide; rock formations on shore. Garners ford stream in jeep; he dynamites rock to make path for jeep. Close-ups of bits of archaeological finds. Small plane brings supplies to camp. Close-ups of Indian signs in cliff-face. Partially filmed in what is now Canyonlands National Park, the the Chesler Park and Virginia Park (named after Jinny Garner) areas. Harmon Foundation. http://research.archives.gov/description/95059  Garner also made a one-hour expanded version of this film, which he used for lectures, now in the AFA archive.

* Rio Grande (1949?) 45m, color, silent. Snowy mountains and melting ice feed the river. Flora of RG Valley, beautiful pans and panoramas of desertscapes. Boating through narrow river canyons. River widens, aerial shots of gulf. Arrowheads, baskets, pottery, stone domestic tools, pictographs, cliff dwellings, Anasazi-era city made of bricks, adobe pueblo. San Ildefonso and noted potter María Martinez shaping, firing, and polishing black pottery.

Sierra Madre (1950) a full-length feature film of a pack mule journey into mountains of Sonora and Chihuahua, Mexico.

Ancient World, The: Egypt
(1951) Originally titled "Egypt --- A Journey Into the Past"; Harmon Foundation; release sponsored by Archaeological Institute of America

Ancient World, The: Greece (1954) Harmon Foundation; release sponsored by Archaeological Institute of America

* Pastoral (1954?) 30m, color, silent. Photographed in Peloponnesus, Greece. A shepherd boy, portrayed by Lambi Papayanopolos, herds sheep from winter pasture to high meadow in early Spring. Drive begins at 6th century BCE temple of Apollo at Corinth, moves to the slope of the Acrocorinth, to the ruins of a 17th century AD Venetian fortress, then finally finishes in the shadow of Mt. Trikkala. Papayanopolos is shown playing flutes in the heights and ruins above the Gulf of Corinth.

Point of Pines
(1954) color, silent. On archaeological excavations of an Indian "ghost town", Chinbegota, by the University of Arizona Archaeological Field School on the San Carlos Apache Indian Reservation, Arizona. Demonstrates students' techniques, guided by Dr. Emil W. Haury, head of the anthropology department. Illustrates planning, excavations, charting, cleaning and packing specimens. Harmon Foundation. http://research.archives.gov/description/95010

Antioch Abroad (1958) Shot in Finland, Russian refugees;  prod. Antioch College

Way of the Cross (1960) NBC News

Japan: East is West
(1961) NBC News

Vincent Van Gogh, a Self-Portrait
(1961) NBC News

Greece: the Golden Age
(1962) NBC News

Highway One
(1962) NBC News (?)

River Nile
(1962) NBC News

Lord's Prayer, The
(1963) filmed in Sequoia National Park, soliloquy by Dr. Ralph Sockman, prod. by Presbyterian Church

Land of the Book
(1964) Brings alive the life and times of thousands of years ago in ancient Israel. Depicts the beauty of the land which gave birth to three religions, the sites where heroic deeds took place, and the towering splendor of the ancient works Prod. Ray and Virginia Garner 

Ode To Joy
  (1968) Explains the importance of music in education. Produced for Mesa, Arizona Public Schools.

Kibbutz Daphna
(1964) Explains how the Kibbutz settlements of Israel are organized as agricultural communities to serve all the people living there. Show how the Kibbutz society has been brought to fulfillment at Daphna in northern Galilee. Produced by Ray and Virginia Garner.

Touches of Sweet Harmony: From California to Scandinavia with the Idyllwild Youth Symphony
(1965) Idyllwild Arts Foundation. Shows the Idyllwild Youth Symphony of Idyllwild, California, as it prepares for a tour of Scandinavia. Pictures the orchestra on tour and includes scenes of Finland, Sweden and Norway. Features the music of Sibelius, Mozart, Beethoven and Grieg.

Joy in the Making (1967) Idyllwild Arts Foundation. Documents the Idyllwild School of Music and Arts (ISOMATA) summer arts programs. Feature Meredith Willson teaching and conducting.

Healing the Whole Man
(1973) Dr. Evarts Loomis (doctor holistic medicine, in Hemet, CA).

Steere Trek (1983) Never released, this ten minute silent film shows a group of people accompanying Lora Steere, carried in her wheelchair palanquin-fashion, up to the fire watching station atop Tahquitz Peak. Steele was a famed sculptor who helped the Idyllwild mountain village become a haven for the arts. Pioneer Lora Woodhead Steere (1888-1984) visited Idyllwild as a toddler and eventually was recruited as Idyllwild School for Music and Arts' (now called Idyllwild Arts) first teacher. More on Steere at http://lorasteere.com/Lora-Steere/Home.html


Unedited Garner Footage

Ray and Virginia Garner produced a rich body of work, including home movies and outtakes from films shot in the U.S Southwestern desert, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. We have uploaded the following films:

Gay Garner in Vulture Mountains, Arizona

Ray Garner: Baalbek III

Ray Garner: Bellmore Boast to Africa

Ray Garner: Dig Caesarea

Ray Garner Personal African Cuts

Ray Garner: Sumium, Greece

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