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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 1, through Thursday, 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. Films marked with an * are highly recommended; unless otherwise noted, all films will be projected in 35-millimeter. Following is the schedule through August 7; a complete schedule is available online at www.chicagoreader.com.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 1

Madame Brouette

Senegalese writer-director Moussa Sene Absa (Tableau Feraille) uses the murder of a police officer and the subsequent investigation to frame this uplifting feminist melodrama (2002, 104 min.) about a spunky divorcee who sells produce on the street (brouette is French for wheelbarrow) and saves other women from spousal abuse. When Absa uses passersby as a Greek chorus to further the tale in song, his film feels like a folk legend, but as the heroine tumbles from one mess into the next, she seems more like a hyperventilating Joan Crawford. In French with subtitles. Also on the program: Short on Sugar (10 min.), a fluffy comedy in which a barista (Lynn A. Henderson) develops a crush on a hunky musician who turns out to be her neighbor. (TS) (7:00)

SATURDAY, AUGUST 2

A Kalahari Family

American moviegoers may recognize the Ju/'hoansi as the hunter-gatherers who starred in Jamie Uys's The Gods Must Be Crazy (1981). But according to this five-part documentary by John Marshall and Claire Ritchie, Uys's portrayal of the Ju/'hoansi as happy primitives living in harmony with nature in the Kalahari Desert is typical of the patriarchal mentality that keeps them hungry and ill. "A Far Country" (89 min.) chronicles the relationship between the tribe and Marshall's father, who in the early 50s helped build the roads that connected their desert community, Nyae Nyae, with the outside world. "End of the Road" (54 min.) and "Real Water" (54 min.) follow the Ju/'hoansi's attempts throughout the 60s and 70s to farm the land they once foraged; they're constantly thwarted by the South African government, which plans to turn Nyae Nyae into a game preserve where tourists can see "real" Bushmen. These first three episodes are rather dry, functioning at the level of a National Geographic special, but the two that follow are more politically charged: "Standing Tall" (54 min.) takes place at the end of apartheid and the beginning of Namibian independence, as Marshall and a coterie of Ju/'hoansi try to recruit tribesmen who've become wage slaves at white-owned ranches; "Death by Myth" (84 min.) focuses on Marshall's rueful discovery that the foundation his family created to help the Ju/'hoansi become self-sufficient has adopted the same arrogant view that the natives are better off wearing loincloths and eating berries. At a little under six hours total, this may be a long haul for the less anthropologically inclined, but it offers a persistent and compelling critique of our romantic notions of the third world. (JJ) Showing over three days; this first installment includes "A Far Country" and "End of the Road." To be projected from Beta SP video. (3:00)

Hooked: The Legend of Demetrius "Hook" Mitchell

The sad case of Demetrius Mitchell, a gifted basketball player who went to jail instead of the NBA, is the subject of this video documentary by Michael Skolnick and William O'Neill. In the early 1990s the five-foot-nine Mitchell was a phenomenon on Oakland playgrounds, outshooting peers like Jason Kidd and Gary Payton who later made good as NBA stars. They and a half-dozen other friends sing Mitchell's praises and try to figure out what went wrong (no tough love, suggests Payton's self-righteous father); speaking from prison, a repentant Mitchell mumbles that he hung out with the wrong crowd and got messed up on drugs. With its earnest tone, choppy editing, and preponderance of talking heads, the video doesn't probe much deeper than this, leaving unexplained how such promise could be squandered. 65 min. (TS) (5:30)

Tableau Feraille

Moussa Sene Absa's 1996 French-Senegalese film comments on the problems of a developing Africa. Daam, an idealistic politician from the town of Tableau Feraille (whose name means "junk scene"), ascends to power and tangles with a local construction firm, President & Company. The personal and the political become ensnarled as President wins a bridge contract by bribing one of Daam's two wives for confidential information and Daam then faces corruption charges. The film is a nuanced tableau of the conflicts faced by contemporary Africans, but the camera rarely does more than center the action on-screen. In French with subtitles. 85 min. (FC) (5:45)

* Anne B. Real

Writer-director Lisa France makes an auspicious debut with this 2002 feature about a withdrawn high school poet (rapper Janice Richardson, aka JNYCE) who's inspired by Anne Frank's Diary of a Young Girl. Too shy to perform, she learns to her anger and dismay that her drug-dealing brother has been selling her rhymes to an untalented rap star (who, after running out of material at his first recording session, protests, "You wouldn't ask Bob Dylan to freestyle!"). France creates some strong imagery and elicits compelling performances from her cast, and though redundant flashbacks betray a lack of trust in the narrative, her mature touch rescues this mean-streets saga from the usual uplift cliches. 91 min. (Bill Stamets) Richardson will attend the screening. (8:00)

SUNDAY, AUGUST 3

Madame Brouette

See listing for Friday, August 1. (3:00)

Rocking Poponguine

Senegalese filmmaker Moussa Sene Absa--whose Madame Brouette and Tableau Feraille are also screening at the festival--wrote and directed this 1993 comedy, which is set in the early 60s and has been described as "the African equivalent of American Graffiti." In French with subtitles. 90 min. To be projected from Beta SP video. (5:15)

Jimmy Scott: If You Only Knew

Matthew Buzzell's 2002 documentary profiles the eloquent and eccentric jazz vocalist Jimmy Scott, whose permanent falsetto, the result of an adolescent disorder, enhanced his singular style of phrasing. Although Scott was a friend and musical colleague of Charlie Parker and Lionel Hampton in the 50s and 60s, he had a penchant for trusting the wrong agents, and after a series of unreleased or marginalized albums he disappeared from the scene until the 1990s, when a meteoric comeback led to engagements around the world. After seeing this film last year at the Savannah film festival, I immediately ordered one of Scott's albums. 78 min. (JR) Buzzell will attend the screening. (5:30)

MONDAY, AUGUST 4

A Kalahari Family

See listing for Saturday, August 2. Parts three ("Real Water") and four ("Standing Tall") will be screened. To be projected from Beta SP video. (6:15)

Tableau Feraille

See listing for Saturday, August 2. (8:00)

African Dance: Sand, Drum and Shostakovich

"To understand dance is to understand Africa in a profound way," claims one commentator in this 2002 video. Directors Ken Glazebrook and Alla Kovgan quickly move past that thesis, but their 70-minute documentary, shot at a Montreal festival in 1999, presents a series of rousing and inventive performances by African dance troupes. A judicious selection of interviews with critics, historians, and choreographers adds context to these well-framed scenes, and the visceral performances fortunately upstage the dubious points, made by European women, about Africans' superior rhythm and emotionality. Also on the program: Nzinga Kemp's 20-minute His/Herstory, an atmospheric but amateurish tale about an Atlanta journalist who falls for a charismatic but polygamously inclined artist. (Bill Stamets) To be projected from Beta SP video. (8:15)

TUESDAY, AUGUST 5

The Other Side of Dreams

An uneven program of earnest, melodramatic shorts. Kevin J. Shaw directed the best of the four (Jeremiah Strong, an affecting portrait of a homeless man trying to keep body and soul together in Nashville) as well as the weakest (How I Got Over, the crudely made saga of a mother and daughter who clash over the daughter's having conceived a child with her Asian-American lover). Mateen Kemet's Silence, an experimental take on another problematic pregnancy, is more resonant as drama; A Single Rose, Hanelle M. Culpepper's period piece about the blues-singing young wife of an absent railroad man, is overly stylized. 81 min. (Bill Stamets) (6:00)

* Anne B. Real

See listing for Saturday, August 2. Actress Janice Richardson will attend the screening. (8:15)

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 6

A Kalahari Family

See listing for Saturday, August 2. Part five ("Death by Myth") will be screened. To be projected from Beta SP video. (6:15)

Hooked: The Legend of Demetrius "Hook" Mitchell

See listing for Saturday, August 2. (8:00)

Rocking Poponguine

See listing for Sunday, August 3. (8:15)

THURSDAY, AUGUST 7

African Dance: Sand, Drum and Shostakovich

See listing for Monday, August 4. (6:15)

* Anne B. Real

See listing for Saturday, August 2. (6:30)

The Other Side of Dreams

See listing for Tuesday, August 5. (8:00)

Jimmy Scott: If You Only Knew

See listing for Sunday, August 3. (8:15)

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