Volume 77 / Number 39 - Feb. 27 - March 04, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933


Herman Engel, 83, pioneering documentary filmmaker

Herman J. Engel, noted documentary filmmaker, died at his Greenwich Village apartment on Feb. 21. He was 83.

Engel’s strong political and social commitments were expressed through his antiwar films, “Dr. Spock and His Babies,” regarding the Vietnam War, “Dear President Bush,” concerning the Gulf War, and his advocacy videos, “Women in Prison” and “Would You Cross a Picket Line?” the latter about a nurses’ strike in a small town.

Engel’s pioneering and controversial films, “About Sex” (for teenagers), “Sex and the Professional” (for doctors and nurses) and “Loving Parents” (for parent groups), were widely distributed to schools, libraries, medical centers, colleges and pro-choice groups. He also created documentaries for NBC, CBS, Planned Parenthood, the National Institute of Mental Health and Save The Children, as well as art films “The Clay Circus” and “Jack Levine.”

Engel was a popular, inspiring teacher and mentor. For 13 years, he was in charge of the documentary program at the New York University Graduate School of Film and Television. Some of his former students are currently documentary activists in Colombia, Geneva, New York, Los Angeles and the Philippines. 

As a lover of poetry and progressive politics, at the time of his death, he was working on a video about Grace Paley, his friend of 50 years.

An avid bike rider, he celebrated his 75th birthday by biking from Manhattan to his home in Chelsea, Vt. Last summer, he biked as a cancer survivor in the Prouty Century Bike Ride for the Norris Cotton Cancer Center in New Hampshire.

He is survived by his wife of 41 years, Sonya Friedman, the innovator of opera “super titles;” by his children, Timothy, Kathy and Susan Engel, and by eight grandchildren. 

Contributions in Herman J. Engel’s name may be made to Blue Mountain Center, P.O. Box 109, Blue Mountain Lake, N.Y. 12812, marked “Grace Paley Video Project.”

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