Black Harvest International Festival of Film and Video | Festival | Chicago Reader

Arts & Culture » Festival

Black Harvest International Festival of Film and Video

comment

This festival of film and video by black artists from around the world continues Friday through Thursday, August 9 through 15, 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. Films marked with an * are highly recommended; unless otherwise noted, all films will be projected from 35-millimeter prints.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 9

Joy

Jackie Alexander wrote, directed, and stars in this 70-minute video about a self-confident and successful African-American lawyer whose race-blind view of the world is challenged when a confrontation with a bigoted white cop leads to a fatal shooting. For nearly a year he rejects the arguments of an activist minister, until the cop is acquitted despite convincing evidence against him. The film takes up an important issue--how racism affects even those blacks who succeed on the white world's terms--but the story frequently lags, burdened by clunky editing and narrative exposition. Alexander seems unwilling to question his characters' behavior, such as the lawyer's understandable but unwise aggressiveness toward the white cop or his willingness to have an ex-girlfriend in the DA's office fix his speeding tickets. Yvonne Welbon's video The Taste of Dirt (12 min.) is a sad tale of schoolyard racism in which a light-skinned African-American girl is taunted by her white classmates; her concerned mother transfers her back to her neighborhood school, but then she's taunted again, as "white girl." (FC) Alexander will attend the screening. (6:15)

* Biggie & Tupac

Never one to shy away from controversy, British documentarian Nick Broomfield (Kurt & Courtney, Heidi Fleiss: Hollywood Madam) takes on the mysterious murders of rap stars Tupac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G. (aka Christopher Wallace) in 1996 and '97 respectively. The two men were friendly once but got caught up in a feud between their record labels (Suge Knight's Death Row Records in Los Angeles and Puff Daddy's Bad Boy Records on the east coast). A wily and dogged inquisitor, Broomfield cajoles and confronts a variety of witnesses, charting a web of intrigue that also involved the LAPD, the FBI, and assorted gangbangers and rogue cops. As the childhood, meteoric career, and last day of each victim come into clear focus, so does the case against those who might have ordered the killings. 107 min. (TS) (8:30)

SATURDAY, AUGUST 10

Daughters of the Dust

Julie Dash's first feature (1991, 114 min.), set in the islands along the south Atlantic coast of the U.S. sometime around 1900. A group of black women, carrying on ancient African traditions and beliefs as part of an extended family preparing to migrate north, confront the issue of what to bring with them and what to leave behind. Lyrically distended in its folkloric meditations, with striking use of slow and slurred motion in certain interludes, this doesn't make much use of drama or narrative, and the musical score and performances occasionally seem at war with the period ambience. But the resources of the beautiful locations are exploited to the utmost, and Dash can be credited with an original, daring, and sincere conception. With Cora Lee Day, Alva Rogers, Adisa Anderson, Kaycee Moore, and BarbaraO, the last of whom will attend the screening. (JR) (3:00)

Kali's Vibe

Brilliantly played by Lizzy Cooper Davis, the title character is a highly competent social worker who's trying to deal with the emotional repercussions of having discarded her irrepressible but unfaithful lesbian lover (Phalana Tiller). Director Shari Carpenter has a strong feel for color, motion, and characterization, which pay off in such fantastic imagery as the whirring movement of two expressively painted lovers. Kali succumbs to the romantic entreaties of a male colleague (Charles Malik Whitfield), a conversion that seems sexually and emotionally false, yet Davis's easy charm and Whitfield's expert timing make the characters hard to shake. This may not have the courage of its convictions, but it offers some funny, touching, and woundingly accurate observations about love and desire. 94 min. (Patrick Z. McGavin) To be projected from Beta SP video. (5:30)

Maangamizi--The Ancient One

An African-American doctor in Tanzania (BarbaraO) forms a bond with a mental patient, and the two journey to the top of Mount Kilimanjaro. Ron Mulvihill directed this 2001 feature, from a script by Queenae Taylor Mulvihill. 112 min. The director and star will attend the screening. (7:30)

SUNDAY, AUGUST 11

Boma-Tervuren, the Journey and Ochre and Water

Francis Dujardin's Boma-Tervuren, the Journey (1999, 54 min.) uses old photos and movies and interviews with Congolese writers and historians to document the plight of more than 250 Congolese who were brought to the 1897 World's Fair in Brussels for "exhibition" to the public. One journalist compared them to toads, and fairgoers, seeing them as "noble and happy savages," threw candies, oranges, and bananas; meanwhile the visitors, unaccustomed to the Belgian climate, began dying of disease. It's an interesting story, but the narrative is muddled by Dujardin's poeticizing ("Only the trees still know your story," the narrator concludes). In French with subtitles. In Ochre and Water (2001, 54 min.), Joelle Chesselet and Craig Matthew look at the Namibian government's ongoing campaign to construct a hydroelectric dam, which would flood the lands of the nomadic Himba tribe. Matthew's handheld camera effectively shows the Himbas' constant walking, and the video's close attention to their customs (like their multiple reasons for applying red ocher to their skin) reinforces the tribe's claim that their culture is inseparable from the land. (FC) (3:15)

Nelio's Story

Part fable, part realism, this 1997 Swedish feature by Solveig Nordlund follows an impressionable orphan as he makes his way from a war-ravaged village to an unnamed city in Mozambique. Along the journey he's blessed by a lizard woman, and his powers to heal and see the future help him to overcome a Fagin-like con man, an attraction to an albino girl, and the troubles that befall his gang of street urchins. Adapted from a novel by Henning Mankell, the film has been compared to Hector Babenco's Pixote but lacks the other film's desperation and insight into the chasm between wealth and poverty that afflicts the young. Nordlund portrays a corrupt government unable to feed its own, but the force of her commentary is diluted by magical realism and theatrical claptrap (the story is told by a baker who works out of an avant-garde theater). In Portuguese with subtitles. Also showing: Mans Mansson's 16-millimeter film Clyde. 97 min. (TS) (3:30)

Two Towns of Jasper

Marco Williams and Whitney Dow devised an unusual approach to examining the brutal 1998 torture-murder of James Byrd Jr., an African-American man dragged to his death by three men in a truck in Jasper, Texas: during the murderers' trial a black crew taped black residents and a white crew taped whites, underlining the racial divide between them. The history of the town creeps in: A fence had long separated white and black sections in the local cemetery. One white kid explains that the Confederate flag just means "kick-ass" and thinks blacks take it "real personal"; a nicely turned out but very obese woman criticizes Byrd's less-than-exemplary life; meanwhile the Byrd family want the death penalty for his three killers (two of whom were covered with racist and Nazi tattoos). But nothing can really explain the opening images of a rural road stained with Byrd's blood and flesh, which seem to make the crime's horror irreducible. 90 min. (FC) To be projected from Beta SP video. (5:30)

MONDAY, AUGUST 12

Race Behind Bars

Three videos on African-Americans and the criminal justice system. Julia O'Farrow's Beyond the Bars/No Extended Embraces (1999) shows a group of women in love with men who are doing serious time. Their relationships and motives vary, but many of them seem damaged by past traumas: one woman, who says she's survived abuse from every man she's had a relationship with--including her psychiatrist--makes her husband promise that if she divorces him he'll pay the legal fees. Still, the relationships register as authentic: one woman supports her lover's repeated rejections of parole because he insists he's innocent. Narcel G. Reedus's prayerlike The Fight is a brooding meditation inspired by the case of Charles Stuart in Boston, who falsely accused a black man of having murdered his pregnant wife. It centers on the figure of an African-American photographed in isolation, against darkness, and as the camera lingers on a shoulder or an arm, as if he were under some threat, multiple voices on the sound track read Psalm 69 ("Let me be delivered from them that hate me"). Also showing: Tina Morton's Severed Souls (2001). 75 min. (FC) (6:15)

Keepin It Real and A Second Chance

Accurately described in its subtitle ("Brothers Sound Off on Relationship Issues"), Cheryl R. Matlock's video Keepin It Real (2001) makes its talking-head shots more austere by blurring the background, which focuses one's attention on the words. Nine African-American men describe a variety of experiences ("A good nasty girl, [but] when she found Jesus . . . all of the good times stopped"), but a frequent theme is the attack on black masculinity by everyone from domineering mothers to brutal police; one man thinks women are attracted to "thugs" as an alternative to "pookified" men. The sometimes amateurish acting can't sustain LaTonya Croff's video drama A Second Chance (2001), in which a woman with an abusive past is reluctant to love another man; the spontaneity required for the street talk at the opening is utterly lacking. 71 min. (FC) Matlock and Croff will attend the screening. (7:45)

Daughters of the Dust

See listing for Saturday, August 10. (8:00)

TUESDAY, AUGUST 13

* Biggie & Tupac

See listing for Friday, August 9. (6:00)

He Said, She Said: Short Films About Love

A disappointing program of shorts in various formats, about relationships between men and women. In Sheron Johnson's Strike! (2001), the best of the bunch, a wife gets fed up with her busy husband and goes on strike. The pace is choppy, but Johnson injects some sadistic humor into the husband's subjection and shows the pitfalls of life in suburban comfort. In A Song for Jade (2001), Chicago filmmaker Shari Lynn Himes honestly presents the regrets of a breakup and the lingering bond between ex-lovers. Her direction is assured, but the film has more posing than acting, and its tone is no more penetrating than the lite-jazz sound track. Love in Harlem, also about the aftermath of a split, suffers from superficial situations and dialogue; director Julius I. Key can't get a fix on his actors, so the music supplies the moods. Also on the program: Man Made by Erma Elzy Jones and Best of Both Worlds by Lesley Thomas. 100 min. (TS) Himes will attend the screening. (6:15)

Yolngu Boy

Shot in Australia, this drama by Stephen Johnson (2000, 85 min.) looks at three aboriginal teens "spiritually lost between the demands of their elders and the lures of rap music, soccer, and easy money." Also on the program, local filmmaker Grace R. Alston's five-minute short Ancestral Memory (2001), to be projected from Beta SP video. (8:30)

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 14

* Personal Visions

A loosely bundled program of works in various formats, about family, heritage, and the discovery of self. Check out That's My Face (2001, 56 min.), an experimental documentary by San Diego-based filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris, whose Super-8 mosaic of crowd scenes and intimate gatherings, of impressions and reactions, is accompanied by a voice-over of poetical riffs and candid conversations about family, religion, and skin color. Born and raised in the Bronx, Harris has been on a 30-year odyssey through three countries (the U.S., Tanzania, and Brazil) in search of racial and cultural identity--donning and then discarding his "all-American mask" for something more fluid and spiritual. His devout biracial grandfather and pan-African mother figure as importantly as friends who've introduced him to various subcultures; despite some travelogue giddiness, the film makes a highly personal journey one we can all understand. In Crossing Jordan (2001, 15 min.), a drama by local filmmaker Alison Lonesome, a sickly old man resents being cooped up in the house, sneaks out, has a heart attack, and is saved by his granddaughter. Lonesome imparts a graceful touch to this simple vignette but not much more. Also showing: Marla Moore's Blood Orange (15 min.) and Tina Morton's dance film If You Call Them (2001, 7 min.). (TS) (6:15)

Boma-Tervuren, the Journey and Ochre and Water

See listing for Sunday, August 11. (7:45)

THURSDAY, AUGUST 15

Maangamizi--The Ancient One

See listing for Saturday, August 10. Director Ron Mulvihill and actress BarbaraO will attend the screening. (6:00)

Joy

See listing for Friday, August 9. (8:15)

Add a comment