The first books film professor Warren Bass read were the complete works of John Steinbeck and the “Encyclopedia Americana.”
Bass, who’s been teaching in Temple’s theater and film departments for 36 years, is a graduate of both Yale and Columbia universities, but grew up in a home with no books and no family members who had graduated high school. When he took a standardized test in fifth grade, he surprised his teachers by acing the exam.
“They were kind of wondering why I was faking book reports and not doing much in school,” Bass said. “So my parents took out a loan and bought the full encyclopedia.”
Bass said he was “an A student” from that point on and was heavily involved in the theater program at his high school in McLean, Va., a laboratory school for The Catholic University of America that hosted many theater productions. He played the title role in “Julius Caesar,” the doctor in “The Doctor, In Spite of Himself,” was lead dancer in a musical and directed a one-act play. Before the year ended, Bass joined a professional theater company.
He was sent acceptances and scholarships from many prestigious schools in his home area of Washington after high school without applying. He started in the physics program at George Washington University, directing professional theater productions in his free time.
Bass was eventually offered the opportunity to do film while studying art and theater at Columbia and Yale universities. Because of his commitment to his professional directing, he was unable to complete the requirements for the theater department and graduated with a degree in art.
“Art gave me flexibility,” Bass said. “I could take studio courses at my own time. I was interested in it, and it gave me time to direct.”
Besides Temple, he’s taught at Yale University, New York University, California State University and the American Film Institute. He also has spent some time as Temple’s director of the master of fine arts program in the film and media arts department.
In the mid-1970s, Temple chose three people from the film industry to be brought in on a temporary basis, considered visiting distinguished professors.
“One of them was a founder of British documentary,” Bass said. “Another was one of the most important film theorists and then there was me. I ended up coming and staying.”
Finding the balance between teaching and working on his independent films is difficult, but rewarding, Bass said. He said he learns from his students and gains new perspectives from teaching.
“It’s kind of a nice dialogue to have students who are in some ways both students and colleagues, and you can interact with them in terms of ideas,” Bass said.
Bass’ work has been recognized with the Platinum Award at WorldFest-Houston International Film Festival, first place at Athens International Film Festival, first place at FirstGlance Film Festival in Philadelphia and Los Angeles and first place at Bare Bones International Film Festival in Muskogee, Okla.
The Civil Rights Movement was a large source of inspiration for Bass during his early years as a filmmaker, who said film was a way for him to express what was happening around him. Bass’ films have been translated into various languages and screened in 17 countries.
He has experimented with both live-action and animated films as well, a nod to his degree in art, along with his experience in theater. He’s directed live theater at Lincoln Center, off-Broadway and in Philadelphia’s Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts.
Bass’ latest film, “The Urban World,” is set in Ahmedabad, India, the country’s fifth-largest city. The film features one of the thousands of families that have been misplaced due to a major development project. “The Urban World” will premiere at the Athens International Film Festival in April and will be shown at several more film festivals this year.
“I’m not sure I make my films for an immediate audience,” Bass said. “I make them for what I am interested in, and sometimes they end up around the world.”
Paige Gross can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.