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Darius Clark Monroe and EVOLUTION OF A CRIMINAL at IU Cinema

“When one commits a crime, the ripple effect impacts the life of the incarcerated individual, their family, spouse, children, victims, the family of the victims, the victims’ children and many others.

With over 2 million Americans incarcerated in prison and millions more incarcerated in juveniles, county and state jails, it’s easy to see how many people are involved when a crime is committed. This is the group I’d like to speak to the most.”

-Darius Clark Monroe, speaking with Filmmaker Magazine

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On October 14 at 7PM, the Indiana University Cinema presents a free screening of EVOLUTION OF A CRIMINAL, the first documentary feature by award-winning filmmaker Darius Clark Monroe.  Monroe —  fresh off the Oct. 10th theatrical premiere in NY — will be visiting the Bloomington campus to present and discuss his autobiographical film.

In her review for IndieWire’s Shadow and Act, Nijla Mu’min writes:

Raised in a close knit, Texas home, Monroe was made aware of his family’s increasing financial struggles and debt from an early age, causing a growing frustration in him.

This mounting frustration to economic poverty is often overlooked when the popular image of a “criminal” is presented. The mainstream media wants something and someone more controversial, someone they can paint as “bad,” as a stain on society. However, the youthful realization that you don’t belong to the middle class, that your mother is struggling, and your water will get cut off, can be deeply troubling, especially for a developing mind.

And from Filmmaker Magazine, which named Monroe as one of their 25 New Faces of Independent Film:

Thirty-three-year-old Houston native Darius Clark Monroe’s feature documentary debut Evolution of a Criminal is an unflinching and unusual cinematic self-portrait, the type few directors are ever in a position to make, let alone pull off with such intimacy and panache.


‘Naked Acts’ program examines ‘Image Making and Black Female Sexuality’

Two decades have passed since Bridgett M. Davis began work on her groundbreaking film “Naked Acts.”

Now the Black Film Center/Archive and Indiana University welcome Davis to the Bloomington campus Sept. 29 and 30 as part of a free series of events also featuring acclaimed artist Renee Cox.

Read more about these events from IU Communications colleague Karen Land at Art at IU.

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And please join us at the Black Film Center/Archive in Wells Library for coffee & tea with Bridgett M. Davis and Renée Cox from 5:30-6:30 PM on Monday, 9/29, and from 5:00-6:00 PM on Tuesday, 9/30.


Restored and Resurrected: Director’s Cut of GANJA & HESS at IU Cinema 8/29

“I’ve liked every script I’ve ever written, I’ve hated every movie made from them.” – Bill Gunn

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Bill Gunn (1929-1989) never liked what happened to his scripts in the hands of another director. In 1969, Norman Jewison needed a writer for his new project The Landlord, an adaptation of Kristen Hunter’s novel of the same name. Love Story author Erich Segal, at the time a professor of Greek literature at Yale, had written a draft, but Jewison deemed it “not ethnic enough” for a film that Jewison was promoting to Variety as “the first all-negro comedy.”[1] Bill Gunn had just finished the script for The Angel Levine (Jan Kadar, 1970), which was going into production for Belafonte Enterprises, and Harry Belafonte’s producing partner Chiz Schultz recommended Gunn to his friend Norm. Gunn revamped The Landlord, giving the content a more political edge and adding brilliant dialog that struck a nerve. In one of the film’s most poignant final moments, Diana Sands’ character Fanny asks Beau Bridges’ Elgar to put their love child up for adoption, declaring him as white. When Elgar asks why, Fanny replies with a line that’s utterly heartbreaking in its simplicity and truth: “Because I want him to grow up like you. Casual.”

Gunn spent a good deal of time on set with first time director Hal Ashby, who Jewison had turned the film over to at the last minute, but expressed frustration with the final work. Determined to direct his own scripts with complete creative control, he took his experience on set along with actress Marlene Clark (a nightclub dancer in The Landlord) to Nyack, NY and began working on a film that would truly defy generic categorization, Ganja and Hess.

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Gunn had previously written and directed Stop in 1970 for Warner Brothers, making him the second African American director hired for a major studio project. Yet, the studio refused to release the film, which received an X rating from the MPAA and remains rarely seen. Despite these setbacks (including the lackluster BO performances of The Landlord and Angel Levine), Gunn remained faithful to his artistic vision, following with his most ambitious work to date– a spiritual mediation on Black ritual and desire in the guise of a vampire film. Ganja and Hess premiered in 1973 at Cannes Film Festival to great acclaim, but its U.S. producers Kelly-Jordan Enterprises missed the appeal of Gunn’s experimental exploration. Cutting almost 40 minutes from Gunn’s film, the completely re-edited version was promoted as a Blaxploitation horror film, which had become all the rage following the box office success of Blacula (1972). Additional versions of the film were later released under alternate titles, including Double Possession and Blood Couple. Yet, the original print remained at the Museum of Modern art, becoming one of its most popular rentals and earning the status of cult classic.

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Given Gunn’s dissatisfaction with other director’s interpretations of his scripts, one wonders how he would feel about Spike Lee’s Ganja and Hess adaptationDa Sweet Blood of Jesus (2014).

 

The restored director’s cut of Ganja and Hess will screen on 35mm on Friday, August 29 a the Indiana University Cinema. Print courtesy of the Museum of Modern Art.

[1] Variety, April 10, 1969. See also Chris Sieving’s chapter on The Landlord, ” Hollywood meets New Hollywood” in his book, Soul Searching: Black-Themed Cinema from the March on Washington to the Rise of Blaxploitation (Wesleyan, 2011).

For More on Gunn & Ganja and Hess:

Manthia Diawara and Phyllis Klotman’s essential Jump Cut essay, “Ganja and Hess: Vampires, Sex, and Addiction”

Shadow and Act piece on the (possible) DVD release of Bill Gunn’s Stop

“Lone Wolf in Black America: A Bill Gunn Retrospective” from Moving Image Arts Film Journal

And a great feature on the house rented by Bill Gunn and creative partner & composer Sam Waymon (brother of Nina Simone!) during the production of Ganja & Hess: “Sam Waymon Lived Here”


Rachel Boynton’s BIG MEN premieres on PBS POV on Monday, Aug. 25

“If you want to know how the world works, as opposed to how we are told it works – or how we wish it might work – you need to see ‘Big Men,’ a remarkable new investigative documentary about oil, money, Africa and America that comes with Brad Pitt’s name attached as executive producer but was directed by Rachel Boynton.”      - Andrew O’Hehir, Salon.com

 

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In 2007, American oil company Kosmos Energy discovered the first oil in the history of the West African Republic of Ghana. Award winning documentary filmmaker Rachel Boynton (Our Brand is Crisis, 2006) gained unprecedented access to the company and the cooperation of its leading executives. At the same time, Boynton researched and filmed for over seven years in Nigeria and Ghana,  with admittance into two Ghanian administrations, and into the camp of one of the region’s key militant groups, The Deadly Underdogs. Big Men follows the extraordinarily complex relations between these groups, providing a rare peek into the fascinating and deeply unsettling dealings of the oil business and its effects on the African region from the initial striking of “first oil.”  In his laudatory review, Scott Foundas of Variety describes the film as a “real life Chinatown” or There Will be Blood.

Backed by a team of renowned executive producers, including Brad Pitt and Dede Gardner of Plan B Entertainment,  Boynton’s independently produced and directed investigative work screened to great acclaim at the 2013 Tribeca film festival and will premiere on PBS as part of its POV series on Monday, August 25th (check local listings on the POV website, here).

 

Check out MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” interview with Rachel Boynton here.

Additional Media & Publicity:

BIG MEN official website

Hollywood Reporter Interview with Rachel Boynton and Brad Pitt

NY Times Critic’s Pick: Jeannette Catsoulis’ Review, “Oil, Money, and Where it Flows”

Indiewire

 

- Noelle Griffis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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


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

 


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 http://jobs.iu.edu and search for job number 11247.


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