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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 continues Friday through Thursday, August 13 through 19, at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State. 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.

* Chisholm '72: Unbought & Unbossed

In 1968 Shirley Chisholm became the first black woman elected to Congress, and four years later she launched an incendiary bid for the Democratic presidential nomination, challenging Americans to voice their discontent with social inequality and the Vietnam war. "If you can't support me, or you can't endorse me," she declared at the time, "then get out of my way." Still an informed and inspired advocate of human rights, Chisholm energizes this compelling documentary by first-time director Shola Lynch. Veteran activists Susan Brownmiller, Amiri Baraka, and Bobby Seale also bear witness, backed by fascinating archival footage and a funkadelic sound track. 75 min. (AG) (Sunday, August 15, 3:15, and Tuesday, August 17, 6:15)

Even Trade

Handsomely shot by Jeffrey T. Brown, this low-key take on gangsta life begins like standard exploitation fare, but writer-director Mike Merrill seems more interested in the psychology of crime. Two longtime partners, one black (David Newman) and the other white (cowriter Faris Fay Curry), clash when each decides to go legit; unfortunately the cliched and talky script generates a somnambulant rhythm at odds with the violent ending. 120 min. (AG) (Sunday, August 15, 5:30, and Wednesday, August 18, 7:45)

February One and Negroes With Guns: Rob Williams and Black Power

The better of these two videos on black activists, Negroes With Guns: Rob Williams and Black Power (66 min.) profiles an African-American who advocated armed self-defense almost a decade before "black power." Menaced by a racist for trying to integrate the town pool, Williams pointedly asked after his wife ("How's sweet Stella doin'?"). Falsely charged with kidnapping, he fled to Cuba where he operated Radio Free Dixie, a station that broadcast political songs not heard on U.S. radio. Williams's rebellious spirit survives the standard-issue PBS style of directors Sandra Dickson and Churchill Roberts. Rebecca Cerese's February One (2003, 61 min.) unnecessarily sentimentalizes four college freshmen who began a sit-in at a whites-only Woolworth's lunch counter in 1960, igniting protests that spread to 54 cities. (FC) (Saturday, August 14, 7:30, and Tuesday, August 17, 8:00)

* The Forest

A French-schooled African education official bemoans his nation's backwardness and bigotry in this 2003 film, said to be the first feature from the Central African Republic. His peers mistreat the Pygmies, saying they lack "brain and soul," so he sets out for a Pygmy village to teach and enlighten them. Instead he gets a lesson in their wisdom: the chief points out he can neither hunt nor heal; the kids he's trying to teach can anticipate rain when he can't. In a moment of great emotional power, he asks for a bride by presenting the girl's family with a freshly killed pig, signaling his acceptance of their traditions, which include great music sung at weddings and funerals. Directed by Didier Ouenangare and Bassek Ba Kobhio. In Akan, Sango, and French with subtitles. 93 min. (FC) (Friday, August 13, 6:00, and Wednesday, August 18, 8:00)

* Island Father

Mike Ivers serves as the starting point for this skillful and beautifully shot documentary (2002, 54 min.) about the North Lawndale community, but his story never overshadows those of his remarkable parishioners. Their lives, some grim and some inspiring, give texture to one of the poorest neighborhoods in the United States and reveal how Saint Agatha's Church, the local Catholic parish, tries to alleviate the poverty and gun violence. Ivers resuscitates a well-worn metaphor ("We have to build bridges because we are all islands") and gives it new potency in daily practice. Greg Samata directed. At the Thursday screening only: Ayana Haaruun's First We Pray (2003, 25 min.), a haunting video about African-American spirituality that uses a triptych design to great effect. (HSa) (Saturday, August 14, 3:15, and Thursday, August 19, 8:30)

Love, Sex & Eating the Bones

A struggling photographer who's moonlighting as a security guard (Hill Harper) meets a beautiful executive (Marlyne Afflack) at an all-night laundromat, and although she's been celibate for two years, they cautiously begin a romantic relationship. Unfortunately their court-ship is sidetracked by the hero's obsession with porn, specifically a buxom video siren (Marieka Weathered) who magically comes to life whenever he tries to stifle his desires. Canadian filmmaker Sudz Sutherland wrote and directed this well-paced sex farce, which focuses on compulsive masturbation but, to its credit, never goes for the cheap laugh. 98 min. (JK) Sutherland will attend the Saturday screening. (Saturday, August 14, 8:00, and Tuesday, August 17, 6:00)

Love Shorts

Screenwriter Ytasha L. Womack wants to talk about love, but you won't want to listen. This collection of stories, held together by one couple's argument in an elevator, is a depressing parade of booty-chasing men and the earnest professional women who can't help but love them. Their overwritten scenes seem designed to let the actors shine: everyone gets a dramatic speech and every scene builds to a predictable climax. Director Jonothan Woods also has an annoying penchant for extremely tight framing that can't be entirely explained by his limited resources. For much of the film I felt that I was the one trapped in an elevator. 81 min. (HSa) Woods and Womack will attend the Friday screening. (Friday, August 13, 8:00, and Wednesday, August 18, 6:00)

Player in Training

With its unabashed sexism, numerous continuity gaffes, and shamelessly mugging leads, this digital video by Eldridge Valentine and Elliot V. Porter qualifies as an endearing mess. Twain Roberts stars as an office twit used and abused by women (when he catches his girlfriend being furtively groped on the street, she taunts him for being "too nice"); Porter plays his buddy, who laughs at his ineptitude but doesn't do much better. Enter Roberts's upstairs neighbor, a smooth operator who instructs the two losers in the finer points of seduction, with appropriately zany results. With Deshanna Page. 112 min. (JK) Valentine and Porter will attend the Monday screening. (Monday, August 16, 8:00, and Thursday, August 19, 6:00)

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 its schmaltzy score and slick, made-for-TV feel, it's a 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) (Monday, August 16, 6:15)

With All Deliberate Speed

Timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education, this documentary by Peter Gilbert traces the landmark Supreme Court case back to Farmville, Virginia, where a headstrong black teenager named Barbara Johns organized a student strike in April 1951 to protest the sorry condition of her segregated school. Her surviving classmates, now elderly men and women, gather for the camera to remember that explosive situation and lament the racial inequity that persists in rural southern schools. Gilbert would have done well to stick with these witnesses; instead his History Channel-type video presents a dutiful overview of the Brown case, thumbnail portraits of Thurgood Marshall and civil rights pioneer Vernon Johns (Barbara's uncle), and scenes of a contemporary high school teacher hectoring her students on the subject of integration. 120 min. (JJ) (Saturday, August 14, 1:00)

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