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Black Harvest International Festival of Film and Video

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The festival of work by black artists from around the world continues Friday, August 12, through Wednesday, August 31, at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State. Unless otherwise noted, tickets are $9, $5 for Film Center members; for more information call 312-846-2800. Following are the programs scheduled for August 12 through 18th; a complete festival schedule is available online at www.chicagoreader.com.

Beat the Drum

Like Alexander McKendrick's A Boy Ten Feet Tall (1963), this moving 2003 coming-of-age story from South Africa follows an orphan who sets off alone across Africa in search of a relative living in the big city. After seeing his family decimated by a "curse" no shaman can lift, an eight-year-old Zulu (Junior Singo) heads for Johannesburg as AIDS sweeps the countryside, its spread abetted by ignorance and indifference. Cinematographer Lance Gewer's wide-screen visuals are a knockout, and the cast is impressive; David Hickson directed. In English and subtitled Zulu. 113 min. (AG) Thu 8/18, 6 PM

The Letter

After a few hundred Somali refugees settle in economically troubled Lewiston, Maine, the locals complain that their new neighbors are poorly educated and rely on government aid, claims that are neatly refuted by director Ziad Hamzeh in a point-by-point montage. Two racist hate groups schedule a rally, other groups plan counterrallies--and the mayor decides to take a vacation in Florida. The most telling moments in this 2003 video documentary aren't the statements of the neo-Nazis, a tiny minority who get way too much screen time, but the lies and bigotries of the ordinary citizens. 76 min. (FC) Fri 8/12, 6:15 PM; Mon 8/15, 8:15 PM

Love African American Style

Short works by local artists David DeCrane, J.L. Tops, Abdul Malik, Ka'ramuu Kush, and Rosalyn Coleman Williams. 93 min. Tops and Malik will attend the screenings, and the National Pan-Hellenic Council will host a party prior to Thursday's, at 7 PM. Sun 8/14, 3 PM; Thu 8/18, 8:15 PM

Oscar Brown Jr.: Music Is My Life, Politics My Mistress

A stirring video portrait of Chicago singer, songwriter, playwright, TV host, and civil- rights activist Oscar Brown Jr., completed not long before his death this past May. Director Donnie L. Betts is aided immeasurably by Brown himself, a masterful storyteller who discusses his life with a beguiling blend of humor, modesty, and drama and a keen eye for detail. Archival footage and interviews with Amiri Baraka, Abbey Lincoln, and Studs Terkel provide additional perspective, but the filmmaker's wisest move is allowing performance footage of Brown to illustrate his social, political, and personal choices. 110 min. (Peter Margasak) Betts will attend the Saturday screening, and a musical tribute featuring Brown's daughter, Maggie, will follow; tickets for this program are $25. Sat 8/13, 7:30 PM; Mon 8/15, 6 PM

Runt

This is Michael Phillip Edwards's video of a one-man performance piece he took on tour around the world, playing both himself and his father. Troubled and unable to deal with his own young family, the son returns to his native Jamaica, where he passes a long night haunted by ghosts: we learn about the mostly absent father's philandering and exaggerated notions of masculinity and about the son's rage at a "father who cannot hear me." The video is often eloquent visually--father and son talk in silhouette in front of a colorful mural--and Edwards's performance is expressive. But it's all a little too much self-help. 80 min. (FC) Edwards will attend the Saturday screening. Sat 8/13, 3 PM; Tue 8/16, 8 PM

This Black Soil

Teresa Konechne directed this fascinating video documentary (2004, 58 min.) about Bayview, Virginia, a bucolic coastal town of a few hundred families--many of them directly descended from the earliest slaves brought over from Africa. Loss of manufacturing jobs turned this prosperous working-class community into one of the poorest in the nation, and in 1994 the governor resolved to build a maximum-security prison in the area, figuring that the lure of prison jobs, combined with Bayview's lack of political clout, would make the townspeople compliant. He guessed wrong, and the video chronicles the inspiring story of what Bayview's citizens did for themselves. This is essential viewing for anyone interested in the future of grassroots democracy. Also on the program is Joey (2004, 15 min.), Nancy Montuori Stein's moving documentary about gang violence in south Los Angeles. (Reece Pendleton) Stein will attend the Saturday screening. Sat 8/13, 5:15 PM; Tue 8/16, 6:30 PM

Toot's and Blow's

Chatham and Avalon Park provide an effective backdrop for this 2004 indie drama by writer-director Deri Tyton. A single mother (Jaye Mitchell) who's just finished a prison term for drug dealing hits the streets again to support her young son, but her plans are complicated by the boy's strung-out father, two crooked detectives, and a struggling poet (Jayson Smith) who's smitten with her. The energetic camerawork can't compensate for the dodgy sound, and the happy ending isn't entirely believable, but these are minor flaws beside the discovery of Mitchell, a strong and appealing actress. 100 min. (AG) Tyton, Mitchell, and Smith will attend the screenings. Fri 8/12, 8 PM; Wed 8/17, 6 PM

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