Cinema Journal’s “In Focus: African American Caucus” asks: What is “Black Film”?

53-4coverStuart Hall’s 1992 essay “What Is This ‘Black’ in Black Popular Culture?” raised a fundamental question that continues to spark debate over 20 years later. The provocation lies at the heart of a series of essays that appear in the Summer 2014 edition of Cinema Journal , featured in the special section “In Focus: African American Caucus.” Members of the caucus, including Indiana University Professor Terri Francis, investigate the relationship between identity politics and media scholarship. The six contributing scholars and filmmakers—Anna Everett, Mark D. Cunningham, Allyson Nadia Field, Nina Cartier, Zeinabu irene Davis, and Francis—consider film-making, pedagogy, and scholarship in relation to individual and often intensely personal interpretations of the meaning of the “Black” in Black film and media.

Despite the diverse perspectives offered (which are not always in agreement), a consensus emerges regarding the need to recognize rigorous media scholarship and experience as not only compatible, but essential to the study of Black popular culture (126). In “Who’s ‘We,’ White Man?” Scholarship, Teaching and Identity Politics in African American Media Studies,” Allyson Nadia Field writes, “While attentive to questions of identity politics, privilege, subject position, and representation, these concerns should not obfuscate other approaches, such as formal analysis, historical contextualization, and industrial situation” (136). Terri Francis takes this notion a step further in her essay, “Whose ‘Black Film’ Is This? The Pragmatics and Pathos of Black Film Scholarship,” explaining that the conventional methodological approaches cannot simply be mapped on to Black film; instead, considering Black film in relation to concepts of genre, industry economics, narrative, and style, should productively disrupt and challenge cinema studies frameworks because Black film-making “bends and resists these very categories” (147). Both Field and Francis are centrally concerned with avoiding the pitfalls of teaching Black film—either as a marginalized week on racial representation, or as a discrete category of film-making (i.e. the films by Black filmmakers approach) that falls short of dealing with the position of Black media in relation to the industry at large.

Other highlights include Anna Everett’s consideration of the role that digital technologies have played in the establishment of the first Black American media moguls, following the lead of Oprah.com in 1998. Everett has a decidedly positive view of participatory media culture, offering Issa Rae’s success with the web series, Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, as evidence that social media outlets such as YouTube may open the door for a new wave of Black media innovators. Independent filmmaker and University of California, San Diego Professor Zeinabu irene Davis provides an artist’s perspective on the need for the recognition of “Black film” as a distinct category. As a member of the L.A. Rebellion—the first group of African American filmmakers to graduate from UCLA’s film school—Davis states candidly that she sees it as her responsibility to create films featuring Black subjects for a Black audience, due to the failure of most mainstream media to provide a range of identifiable representations.

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Samuel L. Jackson appears on the cover of the CJ issue as “Senor Love Daddy,” whose direct address confronts the reader as it did the viewer in Spike Lee’s Do the Right Thing (1989). Through this icon of Black popular culture, series editors Beretta E. Smith-Shomade, Racquel Gates, and Miriam J. Petty recall the significance of the “roll call,” as performed by Love Daddy in the film, within Black culture: “Naming oneself, naming pioneers, naming the dead and the living, provides a way to establish a sense of lineage and communal bonds” (123). Noting that the roll call has roots in African American tradition, the authors explain that in African American culture, it has also served as a way of making a space for oneself at the exclusionary table of American society. While the “In Focus” section features complex debates surrounding the very meaning of “Black” and the responsibilities of all media scholars to teach Black cinema without marginalizing it as a side note in film history, the invocation of the roll call serves as a reminder that the recognition and celebration of Black films and filmmakers always provides an excellent starting place. As Francis states so eloquently at the conclusion of her essay: “In the end, simply introducing students to Charles Burnett, Julie Dash, and outstanding works like Chameleon Street (Wendell B. Harris, Jr., 1989) and Losing Ground (Kathleen Collins, 1982) generates new, enthusiastic, and better-informed audiences—you can’t unsee those films” (150).

~Noelle Griffis


Last Week of Fundraising for #DirectedbyWomen Global Celebration

Barbara Ann O’Leary’s #DirectedbyWomen Seed & Spark crowdfunding campaign just passed the halfway mark towards its $20k seed fund goal, with one week left to go. O’Leary envisions a 15-day global film party to celebrate the diversity of female film-making. Most conversations about women filmmakers focus on the lack of women at the helm of major industry vehicles, but O’ Leary would like to bring more attention to the thousands of women creating diverse and dynamic work through a range of  practices (i.e. independent, experimental, documentary, shorts, in addition to commercial features). In fact, O’Leary has compiled a list through imdb of over 5,000 female filmmakers that you can check out here. Screening events will range from grassroots  parties to larger events at established cinemas around the world. According to O’Leary, “A successful campaign will position us to extend the invitation far and wide, and give us a chance to create online structures that will make it really easy for people to find out about events celebrating films #DirectedbyWomen.”  The BFC/A’s Noelle Griffis corresponded via email with O’Leary to learn more about the project, and the full interview is printed below. The fundraising campaign ends mid-day, Thursday August 7, so follow the Seed & Spark page and spread the word!
Filmmaker and BFC/A graphic designer Joyce “Eli” Bevins created a pitch video for the #DirectedbyWomen Seed & Spark campaign with her sister and collaborator Lu Bevins. I asked Eli what motivated her to get involved with #DirectedbyWomen, and she responded: “Women directors and filmmakers are often overlooked and underrepresented in the film industry. This campaign is a great way to spread the word about films directed by women, encourages support and it serves as a platform to help women directors and their work obtain more exposure on a global scale. For these reasons I wanted to help Barbra promote and spread the vision of the Directed by Women Campaign. I see this campaign as the next BIG thing for women directors everywhere.”
#directedbywomen
BFC/A: What is the Directed by Women (#DirectedbyWomen) project?
O’Leary: #DirectedbyWomen is a worldwide Film Viewing Party celebrating women filmmakers and their work.  Next year from September 1-15, 2015, film lovers around the world will spend 15 intensive, glorious days watching films #DirectedbyWomen either on their own in what I call Solo Celebrations, in House Parties where they’ll share the experience with family and friends, or at community centers and cinemas where the greater film loving community can come together to enjoy films and show appreciation for the women who directed them.  I envision many filmmakers having the chance to participate in person in some events to heighten the sense of appreciation.This is a highly distributed, non-hierachical event so people will be making their own choices about what to screen but the #DirectedbyWomen project will be supporting film lovers throughout the year as we prepare for this event with information that will help them learn about women filmmakers and how to go about arranging screening rights for their work. We’ll also be facilitating sharing about all the events so film lovers can learn about and vicariously enjoy the other celebrations happening around the world.
BFC/A: What motivated you to organize this ambitious global initiative, and what are some of your goals?

O’Leary: One thing that motivated me to launch this party was my growing awareness of the large number of films #DirectedbyWomen. A little over a year ago I casually started a list for my own use, but it quickly grew. At the moment there are 5,384  Women Film Directors active in the past decade on the list. Almost every day more women directors come to my attention, so I’m confident this list reflects a small percentage of the women who are actually out there making films, web series, TV, etc. And yet I hear often that there are very few women directors. It seemed that it would be great to have a fun, engaging way for film lovers to notice and appreciate these films. I made a list of 10 Reasons to Throw a Worldwide Film Viewing Party and shared it online.  I’m hoping film lovers around the globe will have a great time finding out about films they didn’t know about or haven’t seen in addition to screening films they’ve already seen and fallen in love with. I’m hoping people will feel empowered to create more opportunities in their own lives and in their communities for films #DirectedbyWomen to be screened and enjoyed. It would be wonderful if women filmmakers found a new level of appreciation for their work with expanded opportunities to create more in the future.  Above all I’d like film lovers everywhere to feel excited about being part of a global celebration happening in a concentrated period of time.  I chose 15 days, because it felt like it would give everyone sufficient time to work one or more film viewing parties into their busy lives.

BFC/A: Is there something  about female film-making (as opposed to other creative or economic ventures lead by women) that makes it a particularly interesting or important site for recognizing gender inequality and celebrating female empowerment?

 O’Leary: I’m putting my attention on celebrating filmmakers, because I’m a film lover.  I absolutely adore film and I want to see the film world flourish robustly, which to me means being open to creative expression from as diverse a group of film artists as possible.  The invitation to focus on women filmmakers is a call to bring greater balance into the film world.To me this process is about embracing creativity wherever it arises. The Global Film Viewing Party is an opportunity to invite men and women to demonstrate their commitment to creating a culture of appreciation and inclusivity within the global film community.
BFC/A: Could you talk a little about how you envision a “global film community”? Is this something extant, or something that we need to develop?
O’Leary: Oh, yeah.  Well, I think the global film community is comprised of everyone who makes, shares, or views films or other motion pictures. By the way I like the word film, so I use it. I know there’s a lot of conversation around what language most effectively embraces the changing forms of motion picture expression, but for now I primarily stick with film, but hope people will recognize I include all motion pictures.  So my sense of the global film community is that this Global Film Viewing Party has the potential to help people in different parts of the world as well as people who are attracted to different genres and other subcultures to cohere around this one celebration and allow perceptions to shift. It has the potential to facilitate new ways of seeing what is actually being created.
BFC/A: Tell us about the #DirectedbyWomen crowdfunding campaign.
O’Leary: In order to get the Global Film Viewing Party planning off the ground we’re currently in the process of crowdfunding on Seed&Spark, which is a crowdfunding and streaming hybrid platform with a strong commitment to independent filmmaking. Seed&Spark is a curated space so I’m thrilled they invited #DirectedbyWomen to run our campaign in their community. We’re seeking in kind support in addition to money. Anyone excited to support this celebratory approach to raising awareness of women filmmakers and their work can help the campaign get the greenlight by offering cash OR choose the wishlist loan option to volunteer skills, time and energy to the campaign.  This is a community engagement initiative so everyone is invited to consider how they can make small or large contributions to help us succeed.  Possible ways to contribute include:
* Social media outreach
* Partnership building – what’s that look like to you? Let’s discuss!
* creation of short video essays highlighting films #DirectedbyWomen
* building information about women film directors and their work as a way to inform film lovers and help them choose films to celebrate
* creating Wayfinder Tributes to honor individuals and groups who work tirelessly to make space for women filmmakers to flourish in the worldThanks for the opportunity to share about #DirectedbyWomen. I’ve greatly appreciated BFC/A’s commitment to women filmmakers and have relished the filmmaker visits to IU Cinema, which you’ve helped sponsor. That has also been a real inspiration for this global celebration.  I want the entire world to fall madly in love with women filmmakers and their work. We’re going to have a great time and hope film lovers and filmmakers everywhere dive in and enjoy the process.

Directed by Women: a Worldwide Film Viewing Party from O’Leary’s Reel Life on Vimeo.

Seed & Spark Campaign link: www.seedandspark.com/studio/directed-women
IMDB list of 5,300+ female filmmakers: www.imdb.com/list/ls051973821/

BFC/A staffer Joyce Bevins wins film award

The Black Film Center/Archive congratulates Joyce “Eli” and Jean “Lu” Bevins on receiving the Elfenworks Social Justice Award from the Campus MovieFest Hollywood (CMF) for their short film, Systematic Living.  Eli, a second-year Masters student in the Indiana University School of Informatics and Computing, recently joined the BFC/A staff as a summer archive assistant.

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Campus MovieFest (CMF), the world’s largest student film festival, hosted its 13th annual CMF Hollywood student film summit from June 19-22, 2014 at Universal Studios. Each student contestant delivers a 5 minute-or less-short film, with only a week to shoot the film and submit it. Speaking about the event, the CMF website stated:

Nearly 1,000 student filmmakers, family and friends from 60 participating college campuses attended the weekend of events including educational workshops, advanced screenings, networking and professional opportunities, screenings of over 200 in-competition short films, and the glamorous red carpet CMF Hollywood Awards at the Universal Globe Theatre!

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Systematic Living was submitted by Eli Lu Productions, the production company that Eli started in 2009 with her twin sister, Jean “Lu” Bevins. Their film, Systematic Living, is about a young woman who uses spoken word to spread hope and change as her dreams are a constant reminder of her harsh reality, as she lives in an economically disadvantaged neighborhood. The short was filmed, directed, and produced by Jean, while Eli edited, wrote, directed, and starred in the film as the character Niya. As a winner, the sisters will receive $10,000 toward their next film project and their film will be aired on Virgin America Airlines.

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BFC/A staff member Katrina Overby had the opportunity to interview Joyce “Eli” Bevins about her filmmaking career and her inspiration for her film, Systematic Living. Below is a portion of their conversation that took place via email:

KO: First off, congratulations on your award! How long have you been into filmmaking?

JB: Thank you. Well my twin sister and I started Eli Lu Productions in 2009 on the campus of Elizabeth City State University. However, in our first couple of years we only focused on writing, directing and producing stage plays that eventually led to filmmaking. We decided to film one of our stage plays as a web series in 2011-2012 to reach a larger audience. Following the web series we began doing short films and documentaries. And that is pretty much how we got involved in filmmaking.

KO: When or how did you find out about the Campus MovieFest (CMF) and when did you decide that you wanted to enter a film into the contest? What made you choose the social justice category?

JB: A cast member of mine in the “Revolution” emergent theater experience showcase here on campus introduced me to CMF. He explained that students have to shoot and submit their films in less than a week for the competition. At that moment my sister and I decided that we were up for the challenge and wanted to express our creativity through film. We decided to enter the social justice category because we wanted to create a film that changes the way people think and a film that would bring awareness to poverty, crime, and injustice in America. Also, we recently produced the “Mill Creek Documentary: Past, Present, and Future” film in Philadelphia, PA, which highlights issues surrounding poverty and crime that once plague the Mill Creek Community. We thought about this film and decided that we wanted to create another film that will empower and influence change.

 KO: As your film Systematic Living discusses the struggle of economic disadvantages, poverty, injustice, and crime, where did you get the inspiration for the theme of the film? Where was the location of the film?

 JB: The concept “systematic living” is a term my sister created and would often use back in high school to explain our economy. The inspiration for the film comes from our experience of growing up in West Philadelphia. Unfortunately, some areas in Philadelphia have high crime rates, poverty and blight. These things would often keep us up at night, from loud gunshots in the middle of the night to sirens that would often meet us in our dreams. From looking at our economy, even I used to question if it was possible to dream physically and metaphorically. So we wanted our film to be the voice of the youth growing up in such environments. That is where the inspiration came from. We filmed everything in Bloomington and around IU’s campus for the most part. For the competition we were ONLY allowed to use about 30 seconds of old footage. The shots of poverty are actually from our Mill Creek Documentary that we filmed in Philadelphia.

KO: How did you decide to use poetry as a way to interpret and present the message of the film? Was this an original piece written by you?

JB: My sister and I are both poets. We often use poetry as a way of expression, storytelling and even the way we often dealt/deal with pain. We decided to use poetry to convey the message to our audience because we figured this medium would be captivating. We also wanted our audience to be moved by the poem. And yes, the poem was an original piece that I wrote. Honestly, it was written from the point of view of how I once felt as a teen and how many others felt/feel.

KO: How long was the process for putting this film together? In terms of writing the script, filming, and editing?

JB: Well, originally we wanted to cast people to act out the story line but since we were against time and could not find actors in one week, my sister and I decided to do a “one-man-show”. We altered the story so that I could do all the parts including pulling the trigger, and playing the homeless person, etc. We did two days of filming on the 3rd day of the filming week. Walking across campus we would just say, “Oh lets film here or there”. A lot of the filming was just on the spot shots from walking across campus or around Bloomington. The night before submission we decided not to finish the project but changed our minds around midnight. I stayed up all night with no sleep to get it finished. To be exact I finished editing just a little over two hours before it was due.

KO: Were you and your sister on the “same page” in terms of how you wanted the film to look aesthetically and what you wanted the message to be? Who was the “brains” behind the project?

JB: My sister and I agreed on the overall theme and category that we wanted to enter for the competition. However, we kept changing the story line because we did not have the actors to portray the story. We had plenty of disagreements during the filming process. We did not think that we would be able to get our message across with no actors. This is one of the reasons why we decided not to finish the project the night before but eventually changed our minds and allowed the poem to deliver the message.

KO: What is your next film project you’re working on?

JB: My sister and I are currently working on our first thriller and screenplay that we wrote together called “When Karma Calls”. We are also planning to work on a poetry web show in the fall. Separately we both have our own screenplays that we are working on.

 ~Katrina Overby

 

 

Please see the following link to view Systematic Living:

http://www.campusmoviefest.com/movies/32749-systematic-living (video: Systematic Living)

Follow this link to Eli Lu Productions website:

http://www.eliluproductions.com/

Resources:

http://www.campusmoviefest.com/hollywood/ (CMF Website)


In Remembrance of Ruby Dee

Legendary stage and screen actress, poet, playwright, screenwriter, journalist, and activist Ruby Dee, originally Ruby Ann Wallace, passed away on June 11th in New Rochelle, NY, at the age of 91, surrounded by her children and grandchildren. Her notable screen appearances included: The Jackie Robinson Story (1950) directed by Alfred E. Green; A Raisin in the Sun (1961) directed by Daniel Petrie; Do the Right Thing (1989) directed by Spike Lee; and American Gangster (2007) directed by Ridley Scott. Ruby Dee’s acting career has spanned over several decades and generations of directors, actors, and actresses. She has worked with legendary Black film stars such as Sidney Poitier, Diana Sands, and Harry Belafonte, as well as current Hollywood stars like Denzel Washington and Samuel Jackson.

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Dee also frequently co-starred with her husband, American film, television, and Broadway actor, director, poet, playwright, author, and social activist Ossie Davis. The couple appeared in 11 stage productions and five films together including Ruby Dee’s 1995 stage play Two Hah Hahs and a Homebo,y featuring their son Guy Davis, and in the Delta Sigma Theta film production, Countdown at Kusini, aka Cool Red (1976). Dee and Davis are also well known for the co-authored autobiography that detailed their public life as political activists and their private life decision to have an open marriage. In November 2005, the couple was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Freedom Award, presented by the National Civil Rights Museum located in Memphis.

Ruby Dee was very active politically throughout her life and career, along with Davis. She was a member of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). Dee and Davis were personal friends with civil rights activists Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. Dee was also a member of the African American female sorority Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated. Dee and Davis assisted the sorority in engaging in media activism and making history by being the first Black women’s organization to create, produce, and finance a feature-length Hollywood-style film titled Countdown at Kusini aka Cool Red (1976). The film was directed Ossie Davis and he, Ruby Dee, and Greg Morris starred in the film.

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Days after her passing, Ruby Dee’s grandson Muta’Ali premiered his documentary, Life’s Essentials with Ruby Dee, depicting about Dee and Davis exploring their lives together as they evolved around love, art, and activism. Muta’Ali explained:

I know Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee simply as Grandpa and Gram Ruby. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to examine more deeply the lives and careers of my grandparents and, with my grandmother Ruby, explore the pivotal, personal and professional choices she and Ossie made that lead them to achieve success in their marriage, their careers, their contribution to the civil rights movement and more.

He continued:

The hope is to, through documenting their story, discover the secrets of divine love; romantic, professional, spiritual, communal, and self love. By telling the story of their marvelous lives and juxtaposing past with present, I’ll learn for myself and everyone who looks on what is essential to life and to love.

Ruby Dee was an inspiration to many and she helped pave the way for not only generations of young Black actors and actresses but also aspiring Black filmmakers, directors, and activists.

~Katrina Overby

Resources:

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/674311556/ruby-dee-and-ossie-davis-documentary

http://rubydee.lifesessentialsdocs.com/

http://www.nytimes.com/movies/movie/87910/Countdown-at-Kusini/overview

For information on the lives and careers of Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, visit their official website http://www.ossieandruby.com/


Summer 2014 Black Film Festivals

Summer-time is upon us and many of you are more than likely seeking ways to make your summer productive, yet fun and adventurous. If this is the case, there are several Black film festivals that will be taking place during the summer and running into the fall season! We highlight a few of these below.  This post should encourage you take time during your vacations to visit and participate in the following fantastic, unique, and sometimes FREE Black film festivals with your family and friends!

African Diaspora International Film Festival: June 13 – June 19

 

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The 12thAnnual African Diaspora International Film Festival (ADIFF) in Chicago is already underway; it began on June 13th and will run until June 19th at the Facets Multimedia Cinematheque. The ADIFF website notes:

ADFF’s mission is to present these films to diverse audiences, redesign the Black cinema experience, and strengthen the role of African and African descent directors in contemporary world cinema. In response to this mission, ADFF features the work of emerging and established filmmakers of color. Most important, ADFF distinguishes itself through its presentation of outstanding works that shine a different or comprehensive light on African Diaspora life and culture –no matter what the filmmaker’s race or nationality.

 For more information visit: http://nyadiff.org/

For schedule of events visit: http://nyadiff.org/adiff-2013-schedule/

 

American Black Film Festival (ABFF): June 19 – June 22

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Film Life’s 18th Annual American Black Film Festival will take place June 19th through June 22nd in the diverse metropolis of New York City. The 2014 ABFF Ambassador is actor Morris Chestnut, and the opening night screening is “Think Like A Man Too” directed by Tim Story and by legendary comedian Steve Harvey. Jeff Friday, the Founder and CEO of Film Life Inc. stated on the website:

The Black experience is an integral part of American culture; and the universal appeal of Black stories is becoming more apparent as African Americans make substantial inroads into the motion picture industry. As we look to the future, it is our goal to not only support Black filmmakers, but to promote their work for everyone’s enjoyment! The ABFF is committed to broadening the mainstream embrace of Black culture, to have as great an impact through cinema as we have had through music, fashion and sports.

For information visit: http://www.abff.com/

And view the festival trailer here:

 

Newark Black Film Festival: June 25 – July 30

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The Newark Black Film Festival (NBFF) will be kicking off its 40thseason at the Newark Museum in Newark, New Jersey on June 25th running 6 weeks until July 30th. The NBFF Bank of America Opening Reception is on June 25th at 5:30 pm (To RSVP: rsvp@newarkmuseum.org) and will the festival will open with the screening of the 2010 film “Freedom Riders” directed by Stanley Nelson at 7pm that evening. Adult screenings are every Wednesday at 7pm and are FREE to the public (first-come, first-serve)! The website states:

Since its inception in 1974, the Newark Black Film Festival (NBFF) has become known among its peers as the longest running black film festival in the United States. Throughout the years, it has continued to provide a progressive public forum for hundreds of emerging writers, directors, producers, performers and film buffs who enjoy African American and African Diaspora cinema. Screening in the summer months, the films that are shown reflect the full diversity of the black experience in America, both past and present. Each film selection encompasses a wide range of cinematic forms and formulas, from documentary to the avant-garde, for youth and adults.

 The youth screenings for the NBFF will be on Mondays at The Newark Public Library beginning on July 7th, and Wednesdays at the Newark Museum starting on July 9th. The youth screenings will open with the screening of the film “Mrs. Katz and Tush” at 10:30am on July 7th.

This year, the NBFF will be awarding inspiring filmmakers with their biennial Paul Robeson Awards, first established in 1985 to honor the spirit of renowned activist, performer, and athlete Paul Robeson.

For adult schedule visit: http://www.newarkmuseum.org/nbffschedule.html#Adult

For youth schedule visit: http://www.newarkmuseum.org/NBFFYouth.html#Youth

 

Black Alphabet Film Festival: July 2 – July 3

AlphabetBlack Alphabet hosts its second annual Black Alphabet Film Festival held on July 2nd (at The DuSable Museum) and July 3rd (at The Center on Halsted) in the vibrant city of Chicago, IL. The BAFF is committed to promoting and showcasing films by and about the Black LGBTQ/SGL community. On the Black Alphabet website, they state the following in regards to their vision:

Beyond LGBTQ or SGL, we tell our stories with each letter of the alphabet. Our mission is to empower our community, celebrate our achievements and foster our future. We do this through the support of culture, art, entrepreneurship, and health. Our aim is to create and encourage a new dialogue of what it means to be Black: Lesbian, Gay, Bi, Trans, Queer or Questioning, Same Gender Loving, as well as Allies and the identities beyond. We are Black Alphabet: Building on our past, uniting in the present, affirming a prosperous future. Let no story be told without us.

For more information visit: http://blackalphabet.org/

 

BlackStar Film Festival: July 31 – August 3

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The third annual BlackStar Film Festival will be hosted from July 31st to August 3rd at different venues throughout “University City” – West Philadelphia –including International House Philadelphia, Institute of Contemporary Art at University of Pennsylvania, Scribe Video Center, and World Café Live. The BSFF website states:

The BlackStar Film Festival is a celebration of cinema focused on work by and about people of African descent in a global context. BlackStar highlights films that are often overlooked from emerging, established, and mid-career directors, writers and producers working in narrative, documentary, experimental and music video filmmaking.

The BSFF includes a film and screenplay competition for the following categories: Short Documentary, Short Narrative, Feature Documentary, Feature Narrative, Short Screenplay Competition, and BlackStar Special Jury Prize. Among some of the jurors for the competition are directors Terence Nance and Pet Chatmon and producer Warrington Hudlin.

For more information visit: http://blackstarfest.org/

 

Black Harvest International Film Festival: August 1 – August 28

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The 20th annual Black Harvest International Film Festival will be held at the Gene Siskel Film Center in downtown Chicago, IL, during the entire month of August, from August 1st to August 28th. Films screened during the BHIFF tell stories, raise questions, spark lively discussions or touch on issues that relate to the Black African, African American, and African diasporic experience.

For advanced ticket information visit: http://www.siskelfilmcenter.org/blackharvest_2014

 

Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival: August 5 – August 9

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Run&Shoot Filmworks will be hosting their 12th annual Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival (MVAAFF), located in the beautiful Martha’s Vineyard for five days, August 5th through August 9th.

Husband and wife team Floyd Rance and Stephanie Tavares-Rance founded the MVAAFF in 2002 under Run & Shoot Filmworks, a national transmedia company founded by Floyd Rance. An accomplished filmmaker, Floyd Rance has worked on several projects with Spike Lee and worked on the first season of long time running show “Law and Order.” Stephanie Tavares-Rance started her own public relations/event planning company Crescendo and has worked with clients such as HBO and Showtime. In regards to the festival, the MVAAFF website stated:

In 2002, RSF established the Martha’s Vineyard African American Film Festival which was designed to provide an upscale platform dedicated to showcasing and honoring emerging filmmakers in a relaxed environment.

For more information visit: http://www.mvaaff.com/

For festival itinerary visit: http://www.mvaaff.com/festival-itinerary

~Katrina Overby


Celebrating the Lives of Greenlee and Jeffries

Two influential African American men in the film industry passed away recently, leaving their mark on the film industry and inspiring all who have had the opportunity to witness their work. Although popular from different decades — Sam Greenlee was famous in the 1970s and Herbert Jeffries in the 1930s and 1940s —  Greenlee and Herbert were able to leave their mark on Black cinema.

Sam Elder Greenlee, Jr.

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Best known for the controversial 1973 film, The Spook Who Sat by the Door, poet, film-maker, playwright, author, and social activist Sam Elder Greenlee, Jr. passed away in Chicago on May 19th at the age of 83. The film, about a militant Black ex-C.I.A agent, Dan Freeman, who leads a Black power movement, was based on his novel of the same name that was released in 1969. Greenlee co-wrote the screenplay with director, actor, and producer Ivan Dixon. An article in the New York Times stated:

 The film, with the same title as the novel, achieved cult status as one of the few to portray the black power movement of the 1960s and ’70s from a militant’s point of view. Mr. Greenlee helped write the script, which, like the novel, drew on his experiences working abroad as a State Department employee.

Christine Acham and Clifford Ward’s independent 2011 documentary about the making of the critical film, titled Infiltrating Hollywood: The Rise and Fall of the Spook Who Sat by the Door, examined why United Artists pulled the film shortly after being released at theaters across the country. The documentary highlights how the film was one of the most important underground Black productions of the Blaxploitation era, with its oppositional narrative and representation of Blacks who are ready to fight for their freedom and their beliefs.

The film has been screened at Indiana University and Greenlee has visited the IU campus and the Black Film Center/Archive on different occasions as well. The film was screened in March 2010 as a part of a two-day spring symposium, hosted by the BFC/A, that was devoted to the study of “Cinematic Representations of Racial Conflict in Real Time.” In a press release about the symposium from March 18, 2010, BFC/A Director Michael Martin stated, “‘The Spook Who Sat by the Door’ addresses the plight and potential revolutionary role of the black underclass in urban America.”

Greenlee visited on March 22, 2011 to screen his film The Spook Who Sat by the Door at  IU and stopped in for an interview with Michael Martin and David Wall. Greenlee spoke about how his experiences as a former employee of the United States Information Agency and growing up in the ghetto of Chicago influenced who the primary target audience of his novel and film would be. Speaking about Greenlee’s visit and the film’s controversial release, an excerpt from the May 2011 Black Film Center/Archive publication “The (W)rap Sheet” stated:

Though many critics peg Greenlee’s film to be about a war against whites, Greenlee describes the film as a war of liberation of the poor of America, which goes beyond the issues of race. While the class-war film was consistently pulled from theatres across the United States because of the feared (a) revolutionary protest, Greenlee, along with a large audience, was able to view the film at IU Cinema.

Greenlee will be remembered for his ability and courage to highlight racial issues in his work that are familiar to Black Americans — such as the “Token Negro,” racial oppression, and W.E.B. Du Bois’ notion of “double-consciousness” — and span across all generations and time periods.

 

Herbert “Herb” Jeffries

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Known as Hollywood’s “only Black singing cowboy,” Hebert “Herb” Jeffries passed away due to heart failure at the age of 100 in Los Angeles at West Hills Hospital and Medical Center, reported OurWeekly, a local online Los Angeles newspaper. Born in Detroit on September 24, 1911, Jeffries, often referred to as the “The Bronze Buckaroo,” was a famous jazz singer and actor who performed with Duke Ellington and was featured in a series of all-Black Westerns for Black audiences from 1937 to 1939: “Harlem on the Prairie,” “Two-Gun Man From Harlem,” “The Bronze Buckaroo,” and “Harlem Rides the Range.” In 1997, Jeffries shared with American Visions, a publication on African-American culture, that he wanted to make the Black cowboy movies after seeing a young Black boy cry after his friends wouldn’t allow him to play cowboy, when in reality one out of every four cowboys was Black. However, there were barriers in the film industry at that time based on race. Speaking about some of the racial barriers in the film industry and the tendency for white singers to cover songs first scored by Blacks, an NPR article stated:

With a mellow voice and handsome face, Jeffries became familiar to jazz fans, but segregation in the film industry limited his movie career. He scored a big hit with Ellington as the vocalist on “Flamingo,” recorded in 1940 and later covered by a white singer, the popular vocalist Tony Martin.

An article on the website Mixed Races Studies, on the history of Jeffries’ career, noted how his fair skin tone (as his parents were of mixed races) could “pass” for several different ethnicities and/or nationalities as he was often mistaken for a Spaniard, an Italian, a Mexican, a Portuguese, an Argentine, and occasionally a Jew. The article continued stating, “He has scrupulously elected to pass for nothing but what he is—a light-skinned Negro.” Further in the article, they share Jeffries’ reasons and response for not attempting to pass for other races, after a movie producer asked why he wouldn’t want to pass if he had the ability to be anything:

“I have been. I’m a chameleon. But I decided some time ago that the Negro people need all the good, intelligent, unbelligerent representatives they can get in this world, and I’m trying to be one. If I thought the Jewish people needed it more, I’d be a Jew.’ That’s what I told him, and that’s how I feel.”

Although Jeffries had to face racial limits during his career, for instance performing in the South with Earl Hines for segregated audiences in the 1930s, he still managed to find a place in Hollywood. Recently, he was honored by having a star dedicated to him on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 2004. Following that honor in 2006, “The Bronze Buckaroo” was rereleased on a revived DVD titled “Treasures of Black Cinema” and was hosted by Richard Roundtree along with other “race films” produced for Black audiences in the 1930s and 1940s.

Both Jeffries and Greenlee will be remembered as their work continues to circulate and spark discussions in later generations.

~Katrina Overby

Resources:

http://newsinfo.iu.edu/news/page/normal/13812.html

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/31/books/sam-greenlee-author-producer-and-ex-government-agent-dies-at-83.html

http://ourweekly.com/news/2014/may/29/herbert-jeffries-hollywoods-only-black-singing-cow/#.U43oVShENpQ

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=316124797

http://www.mixedracestudies.org/wordpress/?tag=herbert-i-jeffries

 


New Orleans Connections: VANISHING PEARLS Director Nailah Jefferson interviewed by Eileen Julien

NailahHeadshotlowresNailah Jefferson’s powerful documentary Vanishing Pearls examines the effects of the oil and gas industry on a small African American oyster fishing community in Louisiana’s gulf coast. After a world premiere at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival, and theatrical openings in New York and Los Angeles, Vanishing Pearls will screen at the Indiana University Cinema for one night only on Thursday, June 5 at 7pm.

Last month IU professor and New Orleans native Eileen Julien talked to Jefferson about her film. Below is the portion of their conversation that took place over email.

Eileen Julien: You have said that you wanted to tell the story of Pointe à la Hache—“if not to save this community, then to let the world know a place like this once existed.” Tell us about this place.  What is so special and compelling to you about Pointe à la Hache?

Nailah Jefferson: I grew up in New Orleans, just about 60 miles away from Pointe à la Hache.  Even though the distance between the two doesn’t seem that far, the way of living is a world apart. Pointe à la Hache is a community that is still very much dependent on the land and water. It’s been that way for over a century.  The families that still live in Pointe à la Hache were some of the first African American and Creole families to settle there following slavery.  They gained their independence through fishing and farming and were able to build a sustainable community.  To this day, the community still literally grows and harvests much of its own food.  That’s not because technology passed them by.  It was and still is a choice of many to stay in the “country”, as they refer to it, and live a simple life where legacy and tradition trump technology and innovation.

What I found to be most interesting though, is that they harvest my seafood.  I never knew it was these small families businesses, just 60 miles away, that were responsible for the seafood I enjoyed at home in New Orleans all my life.

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EJ: Is there a scene or sequence of the film that you find especially satisfying and why so?

NJ: There are two scenes I’m quite satisfied with.  The first would be the history of the African American oystermen and their struggle to become independent.  That’s a story that somehow eluded the Louisiana history books.  So, for the first time we are bringing that story to the masses.  The second would be when oyster season finally opens.  The season finally reopened in October 2011, 17 months after the BP Spill.  I’d heard the fishermen’s stories about harvesting oysters, but never witnessed it.  So, going out on the water with the guys just before dawn and seeing the sun rise on the bay was a magnificent sight.  Finally reaching our destination and watching them, after over a year of waiting, drop dredge and get back to work, was a thrill.  I think everyone on the boat that day was experiencing a mix of emotions – excited, nervous, hopeful, scared. That was probably my favorite shoot.

EJ: Film scholars claim that documentaries don’t just “tell the truth” or give objective testimonies: they actually present a point of view, they make arguments.  What arguments does Vanishing Pearls make?

NJ: Vanishing Pearls definitely does make an argument.  I’d say the argument is that the community of Pointe à la Hache, contrary to BP’s reports, has not economically or ecologically rebounded from the devastation caused by the BP oil spill. Furthermore, BP has not taken full responsibility for the devastation caused by their spill and unfortunately our elected officials are not assuring that BP will be held accountable so that communities like Pointe à la Hache and others still suffering along the Gulf Coast get justice.

EJ: Your film tells a Louisiana story—about family, the environment, ways of life, and even the history of Louisiana racism.  It is a very local story, but would you agree that it transcends its place of locality, that it is also the story of many communities around our “globalized” world?

NJ: Yes, I believe Vanishing Pearls does transcend Louisiana.  In many places throughout the US and beyond, oil and gas companies are allowed to exploit natural resources, ravage lands and put communities at risk all for the economic advancement of those companies.  This happens from Russia to Nigeria, North Dakota to Ohio.  Unfortunately, the story of big oil and gas’s abuse is a global one and not just the story of Pointe à la Hache fishermen as told in Vanishing Pearls.

EJ: What are the challenges and joys of documentary filmmaking?  Is documentary filmmaking becoming more important?

NJ: There are many challenges of documentary filmmaking, but they are far outweighed by the joys.  Raising money is a challenge, getting people to buy into your vision is a challenge, but connecting with your characters and being enlightened by new subjects and different ways of life is such a joy.  Relating to people and learning that no matter how different we may seem or live or speak or look, we all have one common goal and that is to be happy.  That realization was renewed every day that I got to talk to the people of Pointe à la Hache, and for that I am very grateful. Documentary filmmaking is very important because as we all become more connected to our devices and phones and various pads and tablets, we are truly less humanly connected. Documentaries reinforce that human touch and the experience of engaging people.  They reinforce the human connection that we are losing.

EJ: Are there particular hardships and advantages to being a black female director at this time?

NJ: I actually think there are fear mongers out there who try to tell you it’s hard.  They’ll try to tell you that your project can’t be too black or too foreign to the status quo because no one will watch or relate.  But again, the point of documentaries, at least one of the points, is to open people up to another perspective, one they’ve never seen or contemplated.  So, my belief is that the more uncommon or unfamiliar the view, the more you actually have to offer. In my book, being a minority, both black and female, is advantageous.

Note: special thanks to African American Film Festival Releasing Movement’s Mercedes Cooper for facilitating this interview.

Check out the film’s trailer here:

 


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