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Now He's Putting His Subjects Behind the Camera Lens

January 27, 1994|SUSAN PATERNO | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

After years of making film and television documentaries about indigenous peoples, Robert Hooper began to feel a little selfish. "I'd go into the culture, take the images and leave," he said.

Hooper's determination to do more led him and his wife to Malaysia in 1989, where he taught Malaysians how to make documentaries. And next month, Hooper, an associate professor at Loyola Marymount University in Westchester, will embark on another voyage, this one sponsored by the Fulbright Foundation. This time he is heading to Fiji, where he will teach television news and documentary filmmaking to students from 12 Pacific Island nations. Those students eventually will return to their countries to work with small, emerging television stations, he said.

"I see this as an opportunity to give back," he said. "I won't just take images. I'll give training." Hooper, 46, twice named a Fulbright scholar, will take his wife, Virginia, and 3-year-old daughter, Julie, with him to the capital city of Suva.

For 15 years, Hooper has worked with a variety of indigenous peoples, from Navajos in the Southwest to Tlingits in Alaska. He started his professional life with a desire to make the world a better place: In the early 1970s, as a public interest attorney, he helped Northern California farm workers who had legal problems.

"I went into the law to contribute," he said. "I always have enjoyed trying to turn things around." But he soon discovered the law wasn't for him. "I loved the field work, but the law library was drudgery."

Television, Hooper figured, was "an even more powerful instrument of social change."

So Hooper returned to school to study film and television and to pursue a career in the media. He has produced and directed an award-winning PBS documentary, "Alaska's Killer Whales--Between Worlds" and produced "Decisions at 1,000 Fathoms," a documentary about the disposal of nuclear waste.

His motivation comes from the challenge of trying to produce quality programming in developing countries, he said.

"I'll put up with a lack of running water to get a good shot," he said. 'It's the challenge. It keeps renewing my life and helps me look at the world and relationships from different perspectives.

"When you do what I do, you notice things about your own culture that you wouldn't otherwise see. When you live in a village and share communally, that gives you a very different perspective on life in Los Angeles."

In training students in Micronesia, Fiji and American Samoa, Hooper's mission is simple: to give Pacific Islanders the tools they need to create their own programming, reflecting their own values.

"Hopefully, they can send it our way," he added. "God knows we need it.'

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