Teshome H. Gabriel, 70, Internationally Recognized Expert on Third World Cinema

Teshome H. Gabriel, 70, Internationally Recognized Expert on Third World Cinema

The School of Theater, Film and Television, The Los Angeles Times, and a UCLA colleague have published obituaries and appreciations of the Ethiopian-born scholar's life and work.

Teshome H. Gabriel, a professor at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television and internationally recognized scholar of Third World cinema, died on Tuesday, June 15, at the age of 70.

The following article was published by the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television on June 16. See also an obituary from the Los Angeles Times and a blog post by Professor of History Vinay Lal, currently on leave.

SADNESS SWEPT the TFT community on Tuesday at the news of the sudden passing of one of the School's most respected and personally beloved professors, Teshome H. Gabriel MA '76, PhD '79.

Gabriel was rushed to the Kaiser Permanente Medical Center in Panorama City early in the morning of Tuesday, June 15. Cause of death is listed as sudden cardiac arrest. He is survived by his wife, Maaza Woldemusie, and their two adult children, daughter Mediget and son Tsegaye. A memorial service will take place on Saturday, June 19, at 3p.m., at Forrest Lawn, Hollywood Hills, 6300 Forrest Lawn Drive, LA, CA 90068.

A pioneering scholar and activist, Gabriel was an internationally recognized authority on Third World and Post-Colonial cinema. He had taught Cinema & Media Studies at TFT since 1974, and was closely associated with the UCLA African Studies Center.

“He was a brilliant, gracious, elegant and generous man,” said Teri Schwartz, dean of the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television. “Teshome was a consummate professional and a truly beloved faculty member at TFT. He will be greatly missed by all of us. We send our love and condolences to Teshome’s beautiful family at this difficult time.”

Gabriel's colleagues recalled his warmth and generosity. In stunned e-mails responding to the news of his death, the words "gracious," "elegant," "stately" and "playful" were used frequently. One friend referred to him as "a true gentleman," while another recalled his "gracious and gladdening presence."

“In my entire career,” said professor Steve Ricci, “I never knew anyone as genuinely engaged as Teshome. He defined what it means to genuinely care about students and colleagues.”

Born in Ticho, near Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, in 1939, Gabriel came to the US in 1962, earning degrees in Political Science (1967) and Educational Media (1969) from the University of Utah. Hired as a Lecturer at TFT in 1974, Gabriel also studied here, earning his MA and PhD degrees. He became a full professor in 1995 and served as vice-chair of the Department from 1997-1999.

Gabriel's books include “Otherness and the Media: The Ethnography of the Imagined and the Imaged” and “Third Cinema in the Third World: The Aesthetic of Liberation." He also published many articles and was the founding director of several journals, including “Emergencies” and “Ethiopian Fine Arts Journal.”

“Teshome’s work had three main themes,” says Nick Browne, vice-chair of the Department of Film, Television and Digital Media. “The unique styles of films made in the non-aligned nations of Latin America and Africa (the ‘Third World’); the issues of relating and representing ‘the Other’ (that is, people not like us); and the unique situation of filmmakers and scholars who have left the countries of their birth and occupy and reflect on their marginal, in-between place in the world — a more and more common situation a global world of the 20th and 21st centuries.”

Gabriel’s influential 1990 essay "Nomadic Aesthetic and the Black Independent Cinema" received an Opus Award from the “Village Voice” for “charting out a genuinely new theory of black cinema.” The term "nomadic aesthetic," which he coined, has come to be widely used in critical discussions of the art, music and literature of the Third World.

“The principal characteristic of Third Cinema," Gabriel wrote, "is not so much where it is made, or even who makes it, but rather, the ideology it espouses. The Third Cinema is that cinema of the Third World which stands opposed to imperialism and class oppression in all their ramifications and manifestations.”

At the time of his death Gabriel was in the process of expanding that seminal essay into a book for Blackwell Publishing, "Third Cinema: Exploration of Nomadic Aesthetics & Narrative Communities." A manuscript for a "foundational work" on African cinema was also in progress.

As a faculty member at TFT in the 1970s and early 1980s, Gabriel was both colleague and mentor of the African American and African student filmmakers whose work came to define the Los Angeles School of Black Filmmakers, also known as the "L.A. Rebellion.” The group included such soon-to-be-celebrated artists as Charles Burnett, Larry Clark, Julie Dash, Haile Gerima, Ben Caldwell, Billy Woodberry, Alile Sharon Larkin, Jacqueline Frazier, Jamaa Fanaka and Barbara McCullough. The UCLA Film & Television Archive is currently preparing a major film exhibition scheduled for 2011 which will explore this key artistic movement.

Gabriel's friend and colleague, TFT screenwriting professor Hal Ackerman, circulated a poem that summed up how many felt:

"Perfection Wasted”

And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,
which took a whole life to develop and market —
the quips the witticisms, the slant
adjusted to the few, those loved ones nearest
the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched
in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
their tears confused with their diamond earrings,
their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat
their response and your performance twinned
The jokes over the phone, the memories packed
In the rapid-access file. The whole act.
Who will do it again? That's it. No one;
Imitators and descendants aren't the same.

—John Updike, May 7, 1990

Published: Thursday, June 17, 2010