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Black Harvest International Festival of Film, Video, and TV

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This festival of work by black artists from around the world continues through Thursday, August 30, 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 is the schedule for August 17 through 23; a complete festival schedule is available online at chicagoreader.com.

Changing the Odds Intended as a contemporary riff on Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?, this well-meaning 2006 romantic drama by Willie E. Simmons Jr. centers on a widowed black attorney (Anthony D. Colby) whose courtship of a successful white doctor (Allison Lane) is tested by their fathers' deep-seated prejudices. The movie's lack of nuance makes the race relations seem even more retrograde than in the 60s movie; we're expected to believe that heads of a major metropolitan law firm would be completely shocked by an interracial romance and that a medical crisis could instantly transform the cartoonishly racist patriarchs into models of tolerance. The romantic leads' performances--expecially Lane's graceful turn--inject a much-needed dose of reality. 80 min. (Reece Pendleton) Colby will attend the Saturday screening. a Sat 8/18, 6 PM, and Wed 8/22, 6:30 PM.

The Minority Writer-producer-director Dwayne Buckle labors to be controversial, but his unwieldy, unoriginal satire is a bore. Comedic tone is a major problem, starting with the movie's hero, a squeaky-clean, African-American credit card sales rep (Billoah Greene) who waddles like Charlie Chaplin but interacts with his white girlfriend and colleagues as though trapped in a beginner's improv class. After he's bounced from his job on suspicion of theft, a series of improbable misadventures leads him to apprehend a serial killer, a feeble payoff to Buckle's premise that black men struggle much harder to thrive in mainstream culture. 84 min. (AG) Buckle will attend both screenings. a Tue 8/21, 6:15 PM, and Thu 8/23, 8:30 PM.

Partyline The word punishing doesn't begin to describe this amateurish thriller about a Chicago ad exec (Janet Williams) who dumps her fiance and seeks romantic thrills on a telephone party line. With its flat acting and clunky technical execution, the movie's first half is virtually indistinguishable from a party-line infomercial on late-night TV; after the heroine unwittingly hooks up with a suave serial killer (Simeon Henderson), the story stumbles along to their predictable showdown. Directed by Chris L. Griffin. 78 min. (Reece Pendleton) Griffin and members of the cast and crew will attend both screenings. a Sat 8/18, 8:30 PM, and Wed 8/22, 8:15 PM.

RThe Rise & Fall of Miss Thang An agreeable variation on the underdog theme, this locally produced video feature is an ideal vehicle for powerhouse dancer Dormeshia Sumbry-Edwards, the first female artist to be featured in Savion Glover's Broadway show Bring in 'Da Noise, Bring in 'Da Funk. As a young girl the heroine sees her father drop dead onstage during a performance; later she gives up on tap and enrolls in beauty school to appease her resentful mother, a gambling addict in denial. Martin Dumas III, artistic codirector of M.A.D.D. Rhythms, plays the smitten dancer who coaxes her back into the limelight. Stacie E. Hawkins produced and directed her own script. 87 min. (AG) Hawkins will attend both screenings. a Sun 8/19, 5 PM, and Tue 8/21, 8:30 PM.

Thomas Sankara: The Upright Man Edited for an hour-long slot on French TV, this 2006 video profiles Thomas Sankara, the African Marxist who came to power in a 1983 military coup, renamed his country Burkina Faso ("land of upright people"), and launched sweeping left-wing reforms before he was assassinated in another coup four years later. Muddy footage shows Sankara to have been a handsome, clever, and hugely charismatic leader, one who pushed women's rights and economic independence and who had the nerve to publicly upbraid Francois Mitterrand on camera about the West's tolerance of South African apartheid. Unfortunately director Robin Shuffield gives most of the video over to dry sound bites from diplomats, revealing little about Sankara's early years or personal life; it's a tantalizing sketch of a fascinating figure. 52 min. (JJ) Also on the program: two Africa-themed shorts. a Mon 8/20, 6:30 PM.

ALSO SHOWING:

Being a Man 106 min. a Mon 8/20, 8:15 PM.

Being a Woman 94 min. a Thu 8/23, 6:15 PM.

Black Harvest International TV Festival award screening a Fri 8/17, 8 PM.

Paper Trail: 100 Years of the Chicago Defender 59 min. a Fri 8/17, 9:45 PM.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): The Rise & Fall of Miss Thang.

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