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Black Harvest International Festival of Film and Video

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This festival of films and videos by black artists from around the world runs Friday, August 3, through Tuesday, August 14, at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State. Tickets are $8, $4 for film center members, and $3 for SAIC students. For further information call 312-846-2800.



See Critic's Choice. (6:30)

Downtown 81

Scripted by rock critic Glenn O'Brien and directed by photographer Edo Bertoglio, this kaleidoscopic tour of the NYC underground was shot in 1981 under the title New York Beat, then lost for many years before being released in 2000. Doomed painter Jean-Michel Basquiat stars as an existential innocent just released from the hospital who roams the Lower East Side, making art and encountering an assortment of musical hipsters (including DNA, the Plastics, and Kid Creole and the Coconuts). He's appealing in the role, which was modeled after him, and though the film digresses too much to cohere as a narrative, it works surprisingly well as a nostalgic document of a bygone era. 72 min. (TS) A 35-millimeter print will be shown. (8:15)


Finding a Place

Reviewing A Prince in the Projects (2000,

47 min.), the longest item on this program, Lisa Alspector wrote: "An industrious boy living in Cabrini-Green is often assaulted by other kids, and his mother is determined to leave the housing project even if it means moving out of state. When he finally makes a friend, a carriage driver who introduces him to the Magnificent Mile and things equestrian, the boy decides he wants to stay in Chicago. Writer-director Brigid Murphy, creator of Milly's Orchid Show, transforms the city into a place of wonder while providing a child's-eye view on matters such as gun violence and sexual bigotry. Dialogue that's more allusive than evasive and plotting that's more optimistic than unrealistic help create the fairy-tale tone of this featurette." Also on the program, two videos: Marcie Aroy and Beverly Oden's 24-minute Step Show: Portrait of a Black Fraternity and Kirby Ashley's 33-minute Faithless. Murphy will attend the screening. (3:30)


See Critic's Choice. (6:00)

Paul Robeson: Here I Stand!

An affectionate but balanced PBS profile (1999) of Paul Robeson (1898-1976), the commanding actor, singer, and left-wing activist. The son of a minister, Robeson won a full scholarship to Rutgers University (where he was the only black student) and earned a law degree from Columbia University, but after prejudice stymied his legal career he turned to performing. The racism he endured in the U.S. led him to embrace the Soviet Union in the 1930s, and during the McCarthy era his income dropped precipitously. Director St. Clair Bourne offers a nuanced view of Robeson's failure to condemn Stalin's purges: during a live broadcast in the USSR, Robeson mentioned an imprisoned Jewish writer, but talking to U.S. reporters later he denied that the purges were taking place. While the clips of Robeson's film and stage performances are compelling, the now-standard practice of zooming and panning over still photos to illustrate the voice-over is tedious. 115 min. (FC) (8:00)


A Woman's Choices

The best of these three shorts is Nelly's Bodega (1998, 50 min.), in which a Latina grocer trying to cope with a cruel husband befriends a black Catholic schoolgirl who's just beginning to notice boys. Director Omonike Akinyema uses some rather forced crosscutting to twine the two plot strands, but the multiethnic neighborhood is nicely evoked by the low-budget cinematography and the refreshing jumble of salsa, hip-hop, and religious hymns. Olufunmilayo Gittens's Lucky (1999, 27 min.), a pedestrian vignette about love retrieved after nearly six decades, is bolstered by its two leads, the proper Gammy Singer and suave jazz vocalist Sir James Randolph. Like a Woman Should (2000, 14 min.), a student film by Chicago native Stacie E. Hawkins, concerns an Afrocentric woman chafing against her boyfriend's ideal of beauty. (TS) (4:00)


A Woman's Choices

See listing for Sunday, August 5. (6:15)

Paul Robeson: Here I Stand!

See listing for Saturday, August 4. (8:15)


Finding a Place

See listing for Saturday, August 4. Filmmaker Brigid Murphy will attend the screening. (8:15)

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