Author Archives: BFC/A

About BFC/A

The Black Film Center/Archive at Indiana University was established in 1981 as the first archival repository dedicated to collecting, preserving, and making available historically and culturally significant films by and about black people. The BFC/A's primary objectives are to promote scholarship on black film and to serve as an open resource for scholars, researchers, students, and the general public; to encourage creative film activity by independent black filmmakers; and to undertake and support research on the history, impact, theory, and aesthetics of black film traditions.

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.


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!


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.


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: (video: Systematic Living)

Follow this link to Eli Lu Productions website:

Resources: (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.


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.


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


For information on the lives and careers of Ruby Dee and Ossie Davis, visit their official website

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



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:

For schedule of events visit:


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


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:

And view the festival trailer here:


Newark Black Film Festival: June 25 – July 30


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: 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:

For youth schedule visit:


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:


BlackStar Film Festival: July 31 – August 3


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:


Black Harvest International Film Festival: August 1 – August 28


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:


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


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:

For festival itinerary visit:

~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.


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


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



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.


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:


Job Posting: Archivist, IU Black Film Center/Archive

11247 – Archivist, Communication and Culture (Black Film Center/Archive), Indiana University – Bloomington

The Indiana University Black Film Center/Archive (BFCA) in Bloomington, IN, seeks qualified candidates for the position of Archivist.

Reporting to the Archivist and Head of Public and Technology Services, the Archivist will process and provide intellectual access to the archival and manuscript collections of the Black Film Center/Archive. The principal responsibilities of the Archivist will be to arrange and describe archival and manuscript collections in all formats; prepare and encode finding aids and other descriptive access tools; provide research and reference assistance; participate in outreach activities; prepare materials for preservation and digitization; and participate in the training and supervision of student employees.

ABOUT THE BFCA: The Black Film Center/Archive was established at Indiana University Bloomington in 1981 as the first archival repository dedicated to collecting, preserving, and making available historically and culturally significant films by and about Black people. The BFCA’s mission today encompasses within its scope films of Africa and the Diaspora. The BFCA’s primary objectives are to promote scholarship on Black film and to serve as an open resource for scholars, researchers, students, and the general public; to curate and exhibit Black film, ephemera, and memorabilia; to encourage and promote creative film activity by independent Black filmmakers; and to undertake and support research on the history, impact, theory, and aesthetics of Black film traditions.

REQUIRED: MLS from an ALA-accredited institution with coursework in Archives or MA in Archive Studies. Two years of relevant work experience in a library, archives, or manuscript repository.

Applications accepted until June 26, 2014, or until position is filled. Resume and cover letter required. For a full position description or to apply, visit and search for job number 11247.

Celebrating and Remembering the Life of Dr. Maya Angelou

Born in St. Louis, Missouri, on April 4th, 1928, world renowned and legendary author, poet, actress, professor, singer, dancer, playwright, director, and activist Dr. Maya Angelou passed away at the age of 86 on the morning of Wednesday, May 28th in her home in North Carolina, according to a CNN report.

Considered a “Renaissance woman,” “trailblazer,” and cultural “pioneer,” Angelou is remembered most for her books and poetry. Some of these works include her most famous poems “Still I Rise” and “Phenomenal Woman” (in her 1978 third volume of poetry titled And Still I Rise) and her 1969 autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings. Angelou is also remembered for her participation in the civil rights movement and fight for equality as she worked with many civil rights heroes including Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, and Malcolm X.

Dr. Maya Angelou

Although most known for her written works, Angelou has contributed greatly to theatre and film through both performance and directing. Growing up, Angelou studied dance and drama at the young age of 14 in San Francisco. Angelou toured Europe soon after in the opera production “Porgy and Bess” as a single mother at the age of 17.

Angelou had a passion for theatre and film, but access to the industry wasn’t that easy. In an excerpt from an interview with former Black Film Center/Archive Director and Professor Emeritus of African American and African Diaspora Studies Dr. Audrey T. McCluskey, Dr. Maya Angelou discussed some of her experiences and issues she encountered in the film industry:

McCluskey: You’ve been a pioneer, especially for black women – directing, acting, screenwriting, and even scoring the music. You did such a wonderful job for Down in the Delta. It makes me wonder why you haven’t directed more films.

Angelou: Really the door wasn’t open. I did try to open it in 1972 by doing Georgia, Georgia but I wasn’t allowed to direct it. I wrote it and I wrote the music. But I wasn’t allowed to direct it. A Swedish man who had never even shaken hands with a black person directed it. He had no idea of the nuances that I wanted, that I had written…. It was just not the film I meant at all.

McCluskey: Did that dishearten you to some extent?

Angelou: Well that did and I seemed to get no other offers.  I did go out to 20th Century Fox and I was their first Black female writer/producer.  But I didn’t get a chance to direct Sister, Sister.  I wanted so much to direct it, starring Diahann Carroll, Rosalind Cash, and Irene Cara.

Later in the interview, discussing her directing work on Down in the Delta, Angelou shared her cinematic sensibility:

McCluskey: You have also said that for you the camera was your pen.  How do you go about transferring what I think are essentially your literary sensibilities to film, which is more of an ensemble?

Angelou: Since I can’t do that poetic prose which sets a scene on my yellow pad and in my books, I have to use the camera to help to view it and to know that there is fresh air here and the smell of grass.  The sun has reached this level in the sky.  The things I can do with my pen, I have to make the camera do it.  Phoebe the painter, one of my favorite painters, calls it negative space.  So that she will paint a line or half a face and that leaves the viewer to add in to see where the rest of that face would go.

McCluskey: Did this come about by you actually saying certain things to the cinematographer?

Angelou: Oh yes, absolutely.  We work hand and glove.  I’d say this scene, it takes place in the late afternoon and I want it to look hot.  Even if I see no one with his jacket off or shirt rolled up, I want the viewer to know it is hot in that house.  So I may have to go out on the porch and catch the sun and the shape of the sunlight over the banister to go into the house and through the screen door.  You see?

Despite some of the barriers, Angelou’s influence on and her passion for film and theatre and can be remembered and witnessed in some of the following plays and films:

  • Angelou wrote the screenplay and directed the score for the 1972 film Georgia, Georgia. Angelou became the first African American woman to have her script filmed. The film was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and was entered into the 23rd Berlin International Film Festival in 1973.
  • In 1973, Angelou was nominated for a Tony Award in for her performance in Jerome Kilty’s Broadway play “Look Away.”
  • Directed by Fielder Cook, Angelou’s 1969 autobiography I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings was transformed into a made-for-television film in 1979 on CBS.
  • In the 1993 film Poetic Justice, featuring music stars Janet Jackson and Tupac Shakur, Angelou’s words and poems, such as “Phenomenal Woman,” were recited throughout the film by Jackson’s character Justice. Angelou also contributed by making a cameo appearance in the film.
  • Angelou directed the 1998 film Down in the Delta, starring Alfre Woodard, Wesley Snipes, Loretta Devine, Esther Rolle and Al Freeman, Jr. This would be the only film Angelou directed that was “mainstream.”

In 2010, President Barack Obama awarded Angelou with the highest civilian honor when he presented her with the Medal of Freedom. Prior to that in 2000, former president Bill Clinton awarded her with the Presidential Medal of Arts, and she was requested by Clinton to write a poem for his presidential inauguration in 1993.

Thank you Dr. Maya Angelou for sharing your gifts, talent, and wisdom with the world.

-Katrina Overby


Tanya Valette presents DR shorts at IU Cinema

Earlier this semester the BFC/A presented “Roots/Routes: Contemporary Caribbean Cinema” at the IU Cinema. This weekend Bloomington audiences will have another opportunity to appreciate the dynamism of filmmaking in the region with Saturday’s Dominican short film program during the Latino Film Festival and Conference. Tanya Valette, currently the artistic director and head of programming at the IBAFF International Film Festival in Murcia, Spain, curated the program. As one of the first generation of students at Cuba’s renowned International School of Cinema and Television in San Antonio de los Baños (EICTV)–who later became the school’s seventh director–Valette has over two decades of experience making and promoting films in and of the Caribbean. The BFC/A recently had the opportunity to interview her over email. The following is an condensed version of the interview, edited for clarity.

Tanya Valette (Photo: Nicolás Ordóñez Carrillo)

Tanya Valette (Photo: Nicolás Ordóñez Carrillo)

BFC/A: Increasingly the Dominican Republic is making itself known internationally in the realm of filmmaking.  Could you tell us about the burgeoning Dominican film scene?  And how do you see your role with DGCINE (Dirección General de Cine República Dominicana, the Dominican Republic’s film commission)?

Tanya Valette: Since a bit more than a decade, the Dominican Republic has been taking steps towards the consolidation of a national cinema, which has a lot to do with the fact that many filmmakers are being trained outside and inside the country. This has made it possible for movies to be put together in a much better way, creatively and technically speaking, with stories that are built better and anchored deeper in our reality.

The Dominican public supports local production, which has given confidence to private investors. The other important factor in this development is the political will, from the presidency of the country, to create DGCINE and the establishment of Law 108-10, which promotes cinematic activities in the Dominican Republic. This law was first put into practice two years ago and has made possible the organization of an independent national industry. One of the big benefits brought by the law is funding dedicated to stimulate local projects, in the various steps of their production. Thus we can develop these projects, mentor filmmakers and later have the ability to enter coproduction markets, etc.

My role as an advisor at DGCINE is intended to leverage my academic experience and training in the audiovisual field, as well as my international contacts, especially from Europe.

BFC/A: You have a background as a film director as well as a producer.  How did you get started in filmmaking?

TV: My beginnings in this profession originated in cinephilia, which was transmitted by my mom, who took my brother and me by the hand to go the movie theaters in our neighborhood. While I was a student at university, studying cinema was practically an impossible dream, until the International School of Cinema and Television appeared in San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba. I am part of its first generation of students.

That complete immersion in movies, with the best professors from the region, Europe, and even the USA (Francis Ford Coppola was one of them), trained me in such a comprehensive way for the profession that I felt the need to pass on what I had learned. That’s the reason why I’ve been involved in training and education since then.

BFC/A: This is a follow-up question…do you see a difference in the temperament (and/or training) needed to pursue the production side of filmmaking — raising money, handling logistics, etc — and the artistic side?  Or are these two intertwined?  What is your approach to making films?

TV: Every day it becomes more necessary that filmmakers get involved in the development process of their projects, just as it is impossible to be considered a good producer when one is not creative. To build a project, to make it into a good movie and make it so it’s seen at film festivals all around the world and has a good distribution, requires a group effort between director and producer. This year, IU’s Latino Film Festival will host Laura Amelia Guzmán and Israel Cárdenas, the directors and producers of Jean Gentil and other feature films. [Jean Gentil (2010) will screen at the IU Cinema on Saturday, April 5 at 4:30 p.m. Guzmán and Cárdenas are scheduled to answer questions after the film. They will also participate in a panel on migrations within Dominican filmmaking on Saturday, April 5 at 9:30 a.m.]

This is a model I defend and that I try to stimulate whenever I have the chance. It is important to remember that we are talking about art films. There is a will to be successful in reaching a large audience. This can accomplished within the framework of an industry that is respectful of each movie as a unique process that will entail its own production strategies.

BFC/A: The theme of this year’s Latino Film Festival and Conference is “Transnational Lives.”  You also serve as an analyst for the Ibermedia Program. What can you tell us about Ibermedia and its transnational approach to coproduction to connect Europe with Latin America and the Caribbean.  Does this transnational approach also apply to existing/possible distribution models?

TV: The Ibermedia Program is part of an agreement between the member countries of the Ibero-American Summit of Heads of the State. Their main purpose is to encourage the coproduction between countries in the region, thus stimulating the development of national film industries, and creating funding and an audiovisual space that would preserve cultural specificities of each country. For that matter, it wouldn’t be considered a transnational concept, since it doesn’t try to globalize stories, forms, or ways of storytelling. It isn’t trying to impose a model.

Distribution and exhibition are the big issues that need to be solved. We can never stop looking for new alternatives so that our movies can reach viewers from all around the world – and this includes audiences in our own countries.

[For more on the Ibermedia Program, see Tamara L. Falicov's comprehensive essay here.]

BFC/A: You’ve curated a great lineup of shorts that will screen at the festival.  How did you come up with this program?  And could you tell us about your other experiences in film programming?

TV: When the festival proposed that I curate a series, I saw it as a challenge. I had to build a program of Dominican short films that lasted at most an hour and a half. I wanted to curate an exhibition that would be both representative and of quality. I had to articulate both of these coherently, knowing that it would be impossible not to end up leaving some important works aside. The history of our national cinema started with a short film, in the 1960′s. Production since then has been constant, even though we cannot talk of significant numbers. Most of the short films in the program were made by students who graduated from film schools in our country and abroad. Some of them already have an important body of work, as in the case of Leticia Tonos. [Tonos' 2010 feature debut, La hija natural / Love Child, was part of the Roots/Routes series. Her most recent feature, Cristo Rey (2013), premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.] We’ll see her graduation project, the short film, Ysrael, which is an adaptation of Junot Díaz’s short story of the same name.

My experience as a programmer has been very rewarding and has widened my perspectives, by incorporating many diverse ways to make cinema. I am always looking for a vision, a way to take up a stance before what’s been shown, a personal writing, the author’s risk and honesty. Something that moves me without often knowing why.

BFC/A: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

TV: It’ll be a pleasure to discover this festival and the reactions of the audience before our cinema. I am very grateful for the opportunity that has been given to us.

The Dominican shorts program screens this Saturday, April 5 at 10:30 a.m. at the IU Cinema. You can find more information about the 2014 Latino Film Festival and Conference here and here.

~Nzingha Kendall

Damn the Man, Save the Rex! – Akosua Adoma Owusu Reinvigorates Ghanaian Cinema Culture


Photo: Design 233/Obibini Pictures

Akosua Adoma Owusu is an award-winning filmmaker whose films have shown all over the world.  Earlier this year her film Kwaku Ananse won the African Movie Academy Award for Best Short Film.  She recently changed her home base from suburban DC to Accra, and in her latest project, she’s aiming to reinvigorate film-going culture in Ghana’s capital city.

Last month Owusu launched “Damn the Man, Save the Rex!” — a Kickstarter campaign to revive one of Ghana’s historic cinemas.  The campaign ends later this week on November 15, and she’s raised over two-thirds of her $8000 goal.  The BFC/A’s Nzingha Kendall interviewed her about the impetus for the project, the history of the Rex and her vision for the space.

BFC/A: One of the goals of your “Damn the Man, Save the Rex” project is to add to the vitality of the arts scene in Accra by providing a multifaceted space to showcase art and music in addition to film.  Can you tell us why you decided to launch this venture at the Rex in particular?

Akosua Adoma Owusu: Absolutely! Well, my motivation for launching the Save the Rex campaign came from how I could see this lack of support for African filmmakers, and even more, a lack of spaces for African filmmakers to exhibit and showcase their work.  Moving back to Ghana after the AMAAs [African Movie Academy Awards], I struggled to secure a venue that would premiere a short film because the film didn’t even fit the mold of any film industry structure – abroad or in Ghana.


Photo: Design 233/Obibini Pictures

Also, Ghana has lots of historic cultural institutions that have been left abandoned or have been sold for redevelopment and yet it is not really a cinema-going culture.  These spaces were originally used by local Ghanaian cultural producers and are now left unattended so they are no longer considered fascinating to people in the context of contemporary Ghanaian community.  I want to revive the Rex to give the local Ghanaian creative community and my peers opportunities to be cultural producers in a culture where memory and cultural heritage is often discarded in order to compete in a globalized world.

BFC/A: A follow up question: What role did the Rex play in Ghanaian cinema-going culture?  And why are other historic cinemas in Ghana endangered today?

Owusu: To say it simply, the Rex, among other cinema houses, was built to promote and exhibit Hollywood and foreign movies for local Ghanaian audiences.  With the fast growing and successful video film industry, there was no longer a need for a cinema-going culture. Films could go straight to DVD and directly profit the filmmakers themselves, which is very similar to the Nigerian film industry.  Many private investors in these cinema houses were more concerned about making profit from African ticket sales or promoting foreign cultures, that the cinema houses were no longer profitable.  Then other models developed, like showing locally produced films in the cinema houses.  This model was not profitable either since every household had access to a television, and people prefer to watch films at home, or on a computer or even a phone. How can these cinema houses make money, especially when theaters are also dying abroad?

I think it is time we turn the cinema house into a place where local artists can show their work for the sake of having their work seen by a local audience, which in turn will stimulate cultural production and cultural productivity.  I believe if local Africans can have opportunities to be seen by the local community, they can eventually get noticed by an international one that often rejects their voice.  In Ghana, we live in a culture where the local community would rather see more movies made from our own voice from our own perspective.  That said, I feel it is time we consider investing more in spaces where Africans can have freedom to be cultural producers and stimulate cultural production of our own culture in our own cultural spaces.

BFC/A: On your Kickstarter trailer, you mention that you’ve encountered many situations where people discuss ideal and exciting projects, but that in the end these projects rarely make it past the theoretical stage.  How is it that you’re able to take your ideas and make them reality?

Owusu: Well, I think my process of taking ideas and turning them into reality is similar to my process of making films – they just come together organically.  I really don’t have the time and energy to wait for funding to pull my films together.   I just have to do it.  I cannot wait for funding to get my films made.  I usually make my films with very little and with what already exists out there.  Kwaku Ananse, to date, has been my most expensive film and it was a co-production of 3 countries that came together to make my vision become a reality.  So, I feel that if it takes 3 countries to make my short film, and I am of 2 cultures, it is my duty as an African filmmaker of the diaspora who makes work in Africa, with Africans and foreigners, to collaborate and be of service to my creative community.

BFC/A: Who are some of the Ghanaian artists you plan to showcase at the Rex?  Or if perhaps you don’t want to let the cat out of the bag quite yet, who are some young Ghanaian artists whose work we should keep an out out for?

Owusu: Oh Yes!  Absolutely!  Many of the artists I plan on showcasing at the Rex are my great friends and this is no secret so I’d love to share who I am collaborating with and their involvement in the Save the Rex project.  One artist is my sistren, Nana Offoryiatta-Ayim, a cultural historian, curator and filmmaker.  I’m a filmmaker and curating cultural programs isn’t my forte.  However, I love how Nana has such a great great eye when it comes to spotting great local talent.

There are sculptors Nana Anoff and Mahama Ibrahim.  There is filmmaker Anita Afonu, who made a documentary, Perished Diamonds, about our dying cinema houses,  there is performance artist Serge who comes to mind….There is Wanlov the Kubolor and M3NSA, of the FOKN BOIS,  there is Kyekyeku who is the protege of legendary guitarist Koo Nimo, there is Jahwai who blends hiphop and reggae…there is Nana Asaase…and Mutombo the Poet…and a young singer, Lady Jay…gosh, I could go on forever!  All of these guys are so incredibly talented. They are the new wave of Ghanaian creatives and I can see them making history and being legends in our future. And, an organization like Accra Dot Alt brings all of these artists, including myself together for cultural events. These guys helped me find a place in Ghana when I didn’t know where I could fit in the current Ghanaian film industry and I’m looking forward to growing with them.  That’s my utopian vision of Africa…it’s right here in Ghana at the Rex Cinema, a place where a gray area of artists can unite and really have the freedom to create.

Click here to contribute and find out more about Owusu’s Kickstarter campaign.

For other information about the Rex and Ghanaian cinema culture:

Jennifer Blaylock (UC Berkeley doctoral student) on the Rex

Blaylock’s slideshow of cinemas in Accra in the late 1960s

JOT Ageyman’s blog post on the Ghanaian film industry

Brigit Meyer’s “Popular Ghanaian Cinema and African Heritage” (subscription required)

Black Sexual Economies: Conference on Transforming Black Sexualities Research

On September 27 & 28, 2013, I had the pleasure of attending, for the first time, the Black Sexual Economies conference that was held at Washington University Law in St. Louis.  Although Black Studies and its various permutations – African American Studies, Africana Studies, African Diaspora Studies – have been institutionalized for at least 40 years, research in Black Sexuality has often been marginalized within the academy. This conference brought together some of the most influential scholars in the broad, heterogeneous area of Black Sexuality Studies: Cathy Cohen, Tricia Rose, E. Patrick Johnson, Rinaldo Walcott, and Indiana University’s very own Marlon Bailey and LaMonda Horton-Stallings, to name just a few. Key organizers, presenters and other participants represented a wide variety of disciplines and research interests, as well as being representative of academic institutions across the United States.

IU's LaMonda Horton-Stallings with Cathy Cohen and Matt Richardson at Black Sexual Economies: Conference on Transforming Black Sexualities Research, Washington University School of Law, St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo: Marsha Horsley)

IU’s LaMonda Horton-Stallings with Cathy Cohen and Matt Richardson at Black Sexual Economies: Conference on Transforming Black Sexualities Research, Washington University School of Law, St. Louis, Missouri. (Photo: Marsha Horsley)

This was more than a conference, this was an experience. The emphasis was on mentorship, an often neglected and underestimated aspect of the academic environment, especially for scholars whose research is often viewed as risky, dangerous and taboo. The impetus of this conference was to provide a supportive intellectual environment for a new generation of scholars working in the overlapping areas of black/queer/trans/gender/diaspora/sexualities, opening up the now-institutionalized area of Gender and Sexuality studies, speaking to their blind spots, and creating much needed visibility around Black sexualities. While emphasizing the need to mentor younger scholars in this area, the key organizers, Mireilee Miller-Young and Adrienne Davis, were very aware of and acknowledged those scholars of an older generation, who had paved the way for us to do the kinds of research that we do. I felt as if I was part of a community, a community of scholars whom I could identify with and relate to. Community building can itself be a double-edged sword, especially when the idea of community can be exclusionary. However, the tone and atmosphere of this conference was one that celebrated and encouraged diversity – of people, for disciplines, of intellectual interests, of positions – emphasizing the potentialities of what a more progressive Black/Gender/Sexualities/Queer Studies project can look like. An important aspect of the conference was the validation of people’s research and what was most valuable was the ways in which more established scholars interacted with younger scholars, providing feedback and advice that was certainly aimed at enabling people to reach their fullest potential. Panel presentations, plenary sessions and workshops (pedagogy and methodologies) made this a holistic experience, grounding the conference in the very everyday experiences of learning how to navigate the academic institution.

Black cinema and visual culture definitely featured prominently amongst presenters. I was fortunate to present on a panel with two other scholars – Jennifer Nash and Ariane Cruz – working in the genre of pornography, an often marginalized and neglected area of research in Cinema/Film Studies. My paper was titled “Theatres of Transgression and Confession: Subverting Masculinities in Gay, Interracial, Bareback Pornography,” in which I explore representations of bareback sex between Black and White men, and argue that the association between barebacking and the death drive is insufficient to understand the complexities of this subculture. This was the natural association because of the HIV/AIDS pandemic. I suggest that barebacking needs to be theorized through the framework of futurity, one where the strict delineation between races and masculinities becomes increasingly blurred. While re-working this paper I am thinking about the relationship between sexual liberation and the potentialities for a new world order. The feedback I received was overwhelmingly positive and has definitely allowed me to push my argument to the next level, as I prepare this paper for publication.

Jordache Ellapen is a Ph.D. student in the Department of American Studies, Indiana University, Bloomington.  He works as a publications assistant with director Michael Martin at the Black Film Center/Archive.



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