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Black Harvest International Festival of Film and Video

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This annual festival of films and videos by black artists from around the world continues Friday through Thursday, August 8 through 14, at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State. Tickets are $8, $4 for Film Center members, and $3 for students at the School of the Art Institute. For further information, call 312-846-2800. Films marked with an * are highly recommended; unless otherwise noted, all screenings are in 35-millimeter.

FRIDAY, AUGUST 8

Of Men and Gods

Anne Lescot and Laurence Magloire's documentary (2002, 52 min.) looks at Haitian masisis--effeminate cross-dressing gays who attribute their orientation to the influence of Erzuli, a voodoo spirit who turns boys into girls--but delivers few insights beyond the fact that they face pervasive discrimination and are worried about AIDS. In French with subtitles. Also on the program is A Red Ribbon Around My House (2002, 26 min.), a beatific profile of a middle-aged restaurant worker and AIDS activist in Soweto. Director Portia Rankoane generates a modicum of tension by crosscutting between the woman's activism (lecturing miners and students on safe sex) and expressions of disapproval from those critical of her candor about sexuality and her HIV-positive status, including her adult daughter. Also subtitled. (TS) (6:15)

* Sisters in Cinema

Yvonne Welbon (Living With Pride: Ruth C. Ellis @ 100) wrote and directed this warm and expertly crafted video documentary about the history of black women in American cinema, from Zora Neale Hurston's ethnographic projects in the 1920s to current indie directors like Kasi Lemmons (Eve's Bayou) and Julie Dash (Daughters of the Dust). In the process she spotlights some forgotten pioneers--like Eloyce King Patrick Gist, a Texan who produced race films in the 30s--and elicits sharp observations from people like Neema Barnette and Jessie Maple, who broke into the business via TV in the 60s. Welbon ends on an upbeat note, predicting even more breakthroughs in the next decade. But when Chicago's own Coquie Hughes appears near the end, her street dialect ("You know what I'm sayin'?") contrasts dramatically with the "white" English of the more successful interviewees, suggesting that, for all the celebration of "new voices," some accents aren't yet welcome in the mainstream. 60 min. (JJ) Welbon will attend the screening. (8:15)

SATURDAY, AUGUST 9

Chicago Shorts

Four short narratives about love and friendship. In Keith Ransfer's The Brother We Keep a friendship between two men is undermined by bigotry when one, a soldier, discovers the other is a "fag." An innocent friendship between a man and a woman is threatened by the unfounded suspicions of their lovers in LaTonya Croff's One. Rod Kirkman's No Coincidence, about a woman who keeps a crucial secret from her boyfriend, relies on a psychologically improbable plot contrivance. Croff employs some distinctively garish colors and Ranfer toys expressively with unbalanced compositions and rhythms, but overall these works aspire with limited success to the condition of Hollywood product. Also showing: Pamela Sherrod Anderson's Getting Directions. The directors and some cast members are expected to attend. 88 min. (FC) (3:00)

Sugar Cane Alley

In the colonial Martinique of 1931, a black woman (Darling Legitimus) works to save her grandson from the life of the sugar plantations, determined to send him to the city to get an education. An unusual portrait of life in the French colonies, graced by a convincing evocation of time and place but compromised by a formulaic, conventionally sentimental screenplay. Euzhan Palcy (A Dry White Season) directed this 1983 feature; with Garry Cadenat and Doula Seck. In French with subtitles. 107 min. (DK) (3:15)

Everything's Jake

Jake (Ernie Hudson), a black hustler who roams the streets of Manhattan playing bongo drums and dispensing pearls of wisdom, is the central character of this 2000 feature by Matthew Miele, an overwrought paean to the dignity of the homeless. One day the sage of the sidewalks meets up with a former professor down on his luck (English actor Graeme Malcolm) and takes him under his wing. The camaraderie that develops between this odd couple feels genuine, but an unconvincing plot twist mires the story in sentimentality. Brandishing eccentricity like a birthright, Hudson hogs every scene he's in. Cameos by Robin Givens, Debbie Allen, and Lou Rawls. 96 min. (TS) To be projected from Beta SP video; Miele and writer Christopher Fetchko will attend the screening. (5:30)

Benjamin and His Brother

Benjamin and William Deng were children when they walked from Sudan to Ethiopia in 1987, part of an exodus of 20,000 "lost boys" displaced by civil war. After years in a Kenyan refugee camp, William has resettled in Houston, but Benjamin has been left behind. Their heroic survival story is strewn with disappointments--the education William is promised doesn't materialize, and Benjamin is ashamed to learn his brother works break-ing down boxes. British director Arthur Howe's 2002 video is mostly competent, but recurrent lighting and exposure problems leave African faces visible in one shot and underexposed in the next. The high point is a beautiful call-and-response sung at a refugee's funeral by his mourning countrymen. 87 min. (FC) To be projected from Beta SP video. (7:45)

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, enhances 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) (8:00)

SUNDAY, AUGUST 10

If I Wuz Yo Gyrl

The narrator at the outset of this video feature by Chicagoan Coquie Hughes promises a story about "real life, real people, real issues." What we get is a story about troubled lesbian relationships that's shrill in tone and clueless in execution. Outside of some raunchy girl talk and tough attitude that may be true to the African-American "gyrl" milieu, Hughes offers only Jerry Springer situations in which men are sexist abusers and women are tantrum throwers, then abruptly terminates the mess with a sanctimonious public service announcement about domestic violence. 75 min. (TS) (3:00)

Afro-Punk

The subjects of James Spooner's video are black kids who've embraced the punk subculture; the unresolved contradictions of race in American life are its underlying theme. A compilation of interviews with dozens of fans and musicians, this video at times devolves into a melange of undigested data, but at its best it's an appealing tapestry of "alternative" personalities: a peace-loving "vegan anarchist," a kid who likes the "fuck corporations" message of punk, a woman who feels her Mohawk haircut has "cultural validity" because she has "Mohawk blood." 75 min. (FC) To be projected from Beta SP video. (5:30)

MONDAY, AUGUST 11

Of Men and Gods

See listing for Friday, August 8. (6:15)

Sugar Cane Alley

See listing for Saturday, August 9. (7:45)

Chicago Shorts

See listing for Saturday, August 9. (8:00)

TUESDAY, AUGUST 12

Benjamin and His Brother

See listing for Saturday, August 9. (6:15)

* Sisters in Cinema

See listing for Friday, August 8. (6:30)

If I Wuz Yo Gyrl

See listing for Sunday, August 10. Director Coquie Hughes will attend the screening. (7:45)

WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 13

Everything's Jake

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

THURSDAY, AUGUST 14

Sugar Cane Alley

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

Afro-Punk

See listing for Sunday, August 10. (8:15)

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