Godfrey Cheshire ’73 has been recognized with this year’s John L. Haber Award, given in collaboration with the New York Carolina Club, the UNC department of dramatic art, Carolina Performing Arts and the GAA. It was presented at this year’s annual arts brunch in New York.
Cheshire is the ninth recipient of the award, named for John Haber ’70, an executive with a theater production company, Dodgers Stage Holding. It is presented annually to alumni for outstanding contributions to the arts. It is not a lifetime achievement award, just a way to pay tribute to, as Haber has explained, “someone well on their way.”
Cheshire is a Manhattan-based film critic whose writings have appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, Variety, Village Voice, Newsweek and Interview. But when this Raleigh native was starting out, his writing appeared in just one place: Spectator Magazine, a Raleigh publication that he helped found in 1978 and for which he wrote until 1998. He continues to write for The Independent Weekly in Durham.
Cheshire returned to North Carolina in April to premiere his documentary Moving Midway at Durham’s Full Frame Documentary Film Festival. The film, which examines the impact of the Southern plantation on American music, movies and modern race relations, was occasioned by the relocation of the Midway Plantation in Wake County. The plantation home that had been in his family was moved in summer 2005 to make way for a large shopping center, and Cheshire had seven camera crews document the construction process. Cheshire’s mother grew up in Midway, and he had visited the home as a child. While at Full Frame, he also served on the “Truth and Reconciliation” panel to discuss his motivations for tackling such a racially charged project.
Cheshire’s areas of interest include Southern and American independent filmmaking, the transition to digital cinema, and international cinemas, especially those in China and Iran. In 1992, Cheshire was the first American film critic allowed in Iran since the 1979 revolution. He is now writing a book on Iranian film, and he is the screenwriter and producer of a drama in development, Baskerville, set in early 20th-century Persia.
Cheshire has a long list of accolades – former chair of the New York Film Critics Circle, member of the National Society of Film Critics, author of a seminal essay on digital cinema – to which he is adding the Haber Award. Previous recipients of what is affectionately known as “The Habey” include comedian Lewis Black ’70, writer Mary Pope Osborne ’71, actor Billy Crudup ’90, choreographer and director Jane Comfort ’67, costume designer William Ivey Long ’69, arts advocate Ben Cameron ’75 and actor Michael Cumpsty ’82.
Osborne, Long and Cumpsty were all guests at this year’s ceremony, held at Manhattan’s University Club. Among the 75 in attendance were Emil Kang, executive director of Carolina Performing Arts; Joseph Haj ’88 (MFA), producing artistic director for PlayMakers Repertory Company; McKay Coble, chair of the dramatic art department; and GAA President Doug Dibbert ’70.
“It is wonderful to have that support, and it really reinforces their commitment to getting alumni together,” Coble said of the collaborators. “Having Carolina Performing Arts and the GAA at the ceremony echoes what’s going on at Carolina now. We’re really feeling tremendous support from the administration for visual and performing arts. . It’s a boom time for Carolina arts, and it’s a great time to be here.”
More than half of those attending, including Kang and Haj, were at the ceremony for the first time, said Rick Davis ’85, director of GAA enrichment programs. Davis noted that this year, in addition to targeting alumni through the New York Carolina Club, invitations were sent to alumni in New Jersey, Connecticut and New York.
“It’s expanded from what we’ve been doing,” Coble said. “It is more inclusive of a broader base of alumni, and it’s really wonderful that people were there who’d never been to an alumni event.”
Haj was struck by the variety of alumni he met. “It was fantastic to meet alumni from several generations,” Haj said. “I met people who graduated in the ’70s and people who graduated in the ’40s.”
There also was a bit of a youth movement at this year’s ceremony, as Kate Middleton ’00 spoke during the closing remarks about her theater company, Ground-Up Productions, which was started by several Carolina alumni.
“The Habey Award is given to someone at the peak of their career, but I think it’s really important to recognize what our young alumni have accomplished,” Coble said. “That’s why Kate was there; we want to highlight what our young alumni are doing. I’d love to see more recent [alumni] come to an event like this because they’ll realize how deep the waters are, how deep the alumni pool is.”
Haj agreed with Coble, adding that the Habey Award is an opportunity for young alumni to mingle with several generations of artistic Tar Heels. “They can be in the presence of these other significant alumni who have done great things in their lives and their careers.”