James graduated from Ottawa Hills High School, earned a bachelor’s degree in arts and media from Grand Valley in 1976 and got his start as a producer for five years at what was then Grand Valley’s new public service station, WGVC, now WGVU. In 1994 he received the university’s Distinguished Alumnus Award and was the Commencement speaker in December 2007, when he received an honorary doctorate of humane letters.
James received many additional awards for his later work at WETA-TV in Washington, D.C., including honors for production of a documentary on opera singer Marian Anderson, as well as "Politics - the New Black Power." His four-part series, “Slavery and the Making of America,” produced with the PBS affiliate WNET-TV in New York, won an Emmy.
“To be Heard” is the working title of the upcoming Grand Valley film, conceived by James with screenplay by Gerard Brown of New York. The fictional story is based on the tenuous relationship between an elite private university and the downtrodden community surrounding it.
“There is a rather progressive professor at the university who has developed a program to help the members in the community who face high unemployment and other hardships,” said James. “The tension in the story involves a clash of ideas between the professor and a major donor to the university.”
James selected Durham-based cinematographer Steve Milligan to work with him and Grand Valley students on this film. Milligan previously worked on James’ film “The Doll,” which was produced with students in a course at Duke University, and is being screened at film festivals across the country. James earned a master’s degree in liberal studies at Duke and was appointed Artist-in-Residence in 2006.