James M. Ault, Jr., producer/director, principal camera & editor, studied sociology, politics, anthropology and political economy with some of the leading thinkers of the age at Harvard and Brandeis Universities, earning his Ph.D. in Sociology at Brandeis. Society and politics in Africa was his first area of studies for which he did two periods of field research in Sub-Saharan Africa, mainly in Zambia.
He was introduced to documentary filmmaking by the late John Marshall, a pioneer in cinéma vérité documentary filmmaking in the United States, and his first film, produced and directed with Michael Camerini, Born Again: Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church (1988), was broadcast as a national primetime special on PBS and around the world, and won a Blue Ribbon at the American Film and Video Festival. The film was edited by Adrienne Miesmer, editor of John Marshall’s classic, N!ai, the Story of a !Kung Woman, and from whom Jim learned important lessons about documentary film storytelling. His award-winning book on that project, Spirit and Flesh: Life in a Fundamentalist Baptist Church (Knopf 04), was praised, among other things, for being an “ethnography that reads like a novel.” He went on to produce and direct documentaries funded by the Lilly Endowment, including Leading Out: A Profile of University Leadership and Irwin Miller: Portrait of a Trustee, and for the Association of Theological Schools and the Episcopal Church.
His African Christianity Rising documentary film series, involving extensive and intimate filming across church types in Ghana and Zimbabwe, has been praised by leading thinkers of the subject and is used by educators around the world. He has produced and directed two follow-ups films from that project: Kwame Bediako: His Life and Legacy, and Machanic Manyeruke: The Life of Zimbabwe’s Gospel Music Legend. He has recently released Esperanza: Hope for Our Cities, a portrait of the impressive multifaceted work of Esperanza in North Philadelphia, featuring its exemplary educational work with inner-city youth.