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Black Harvest International Festival of Film and Video

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This festival of work by black artists from around the world runs Saturday, August 7, through Thursday, August 19, at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State. Unless otherwise noted, tickets are $9, $5 for Film Center members, and $3 for SAIC students; for further information call 312-846-2800. Programs marked with an asterisk (*) are highly recommended, and all works will be projected from video formats. Following are the programs scheduled for August 7 through 12; a complete festival schedule is available online at www.artic.edu/webspaces/siskelfilmcenter/2004/august/harvest.htm.

Dangerous Affair

Produced in Kenya and released straight to video, this 2002 drama about adultery plays like a soap opera, with good-looking stereotypes defined only by their romantic relationships. This safety valve enables director Judy Kibinge to examine such hot-button African issues as sexism and unemployment, but non-Africans might have trouble empathizing with the leading man, a callous womanizer who hooks up with a westernized Nairobi career woman, chafes against her assertive personality, and flees into the arms of a bad-girl lover. The poor sound quality further obscures the characters' motivations. 105 min. (AG) (Saturday, August 7, 3:15; Wednesday, August 11, 8:00)

The Epicureans

The title refers to Epicurus's philosophy extolling the pursuit of pleasure through friendship, though first-time writer-director Brandon Broussard admits that the real inspiration for this 2003 ensemble comedy is Swingers. After a shaky opening montage, Broussard follows four African-American buddies (a ladies' man, a hefty guy, a henpecked son, and a porn addict) as they drive around D.C.'s trendy Georgetown and Adams Morgan neighborhoods looking for food, drink, and weed. Not much happens, but as they ponder life and check out the ladies, Broussard creates an authentic portrait of young men in the holding pattern between college and adulthood. 85 min. (AG) Broussard will attend the Thursday screening. (Monday, August 9, 6:15; Thursday, August 12, 8:00)

Hoxie: The First Stand and The Intolerable Burden

Two video documentaries on the early years of school desegregation in the south. Hoxie: The First Stand (2002, 56 min.) focuses on a small Alabama town whose principled school board willingly acceded to the Supreme Court's 1954 order to desegregate. The experiment worked until a Life pictorial spread alerted racist agitators, who deluged the town. Director David Appleby's tight storytelling excludes too much--brief interviews with former segregationists don't probe their current racial views. The Intolerable Burden (2003, 56 min.) focuses on a black family whose children were threatened and punched for integrating the public schools of Drew, Mississippi, in 1965. Director Chea Prince definitely includes diverse viewpoints, including that of a white woman who terms blacks "a happy race." (FC) Admission is free. (Saturday, August 7, 5:15)

* Kounandi

Apolline Traore's 2003 video from Burkina Faso is an appealing fable about prejudice, community, and love. A pregnant stranger arrives in a village and dies in childbirth. The orphan, a girl, is given to a childless couple to raise, then grows up a dwarf and is mocked by the villagers. Her adoptive father throws her out of his house after murdering his wife, but a handsome farmer builds her a hut, and she makes delicious cakes using a pan that's her only inheritance from her birth mother. The theme of redemptive spiritual connections wins out over occasional awkwardness in imagery and pacing. In Dioula with English subtitles. Also showing: Simbi Hall's saucy Long Story Short, in which a woman seeks her "true hair identity." 65 min. (FC) Hall will attend the Saturday screening. (Saturday, August 7, 8:00; Thursday, August 12, 6:15)

The Last of the First

Anja Baron directed this solid group portrait of the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band, aging swing players who still perform together. Within jazz circles the musicians are demigods (guitarist Al Casey accompanied Fats Waller; vocalist Laurel Watson recorded with Duke Ellington and Count Basie; drummer Johnny Blowers worked with Ellington, Louis Armstrong, and Frank Sinatra), and even in their 90s they're surprisingly vital. Like other docs about aging musicians (a surprisingly robust genre), this features a series of personal portraits, visits to sites of past glories, praise from scholars and new fans, and a sad recognition that the players are dying off. Though hardly revelatory, it's touching and well made. 88 min. (HSa) (Sunday, August 8, 3:15; Tuesday, August 10, 6:15)

* A Place of Our Own and With My Children

Two video documentaries about family life in the black middle class. In A Place of Our Own (54 min.), Stanley Nelson explores his family's struggles with race and class as he investigates the history of Oak Bluffs, a vacation spot for blacks on Martha's Vineyard. Both aspects of the story are intriguing and thoughtfully presented; I only wish Nelson had taken time to expand them. In With My Children (40 min.), Khulile Nxumalo looks at a South African family held together by a strong mother; schematic intercutting heightens the contrast between two of her sons, one a go-getter at Microsoft and the other a directionless soul. (HSa) (Monday, August 9, 8:00; Wednesday, August 11, 6:15)

Secrets and Shadows

Four short videos. With gritty visuals and spare dialogue, Ryan Fleck and Anna Boden's credible slice-of-life drama Gowanus, Brooklyn tells the story of a precocious 12-year-old who stumbles upon a troubling secret involving her basketball coach. In Leona Whitney Beatty's The Last Chair (2003) a black high school freshman moves to a predominantly white neighborhood in 1968; despite the schmaltzy score and slick, made-for-TV look, it's an earnest and heartfelt look at the turbulent early years of integration. Less impressive are Kirby Ashley's Blast On, a pointless riff on film noir, and Julius Amedume's The Phone Call (2003), about a law-abiding man whose drug-dealing friend asks him for a favor. 96 min. (JK) Ashley will attend the screening. (Tuesday, August 10, 8:15)

Strange as Angels

A recently divorced man (Christian Payton) hooks up with a proud, independent woman (Marie-Francoise Theodore); their relationship begins with a night of steamy sex, but he retreats once the affair begins to blossom, and she refocuses her attention on traveling abroad. Meanwhile their respective best friends approach each other more cautiously but arrive at something more substantial and less neurotic. Shot in Chicago and Minneapolis, this digital video by Steven Foley has its sexy moments, but the romantic drama is hampered by shaky camerawork, uneven acting, and a speechifying script. 94 min. (JK) (Sunday, August 8, 5:30; Tuesday, August 10, 8:00)

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