Reflections Unheard: BFC/A Interview with Nevline Nnaji

On Friday, April 8, at 3pm, the Black Film Center/Archive, IU Libraries Media Services, and Directed by Women will present a free screening of Nevline Nnaji’s 2013 documentary, Reflections Unheard: Black Women in Civil Rights.  The screening will take place in the Phyllis Klotman Room (044B) at the Black Film Center/Archive in Wells Library, on the IU Bloomington campus.

Free Huey Newton, Black Panther Rally, San Francisco, May 1, 1969

Free Huey Newton, Black Panther Rally, San Francisco, May 1, 1969. From REFLECTIONS UNHEARD: BLACK WOMEN IN CIVIL RIGHTS

In Reflections Unheard, Nnaji chronicles the experiences of some of the 60’s and 70’s most prolific Black female activists during moments of political triumph as well as in the face of gender, racial, and class inequality. Through a series of interviews and stunning archival footage, Nnaji calls attention to the oft-overlooked obstacles these women endure while organizing for the social and political betterment of women in both national and international contexts.

Yalie Kamara, an MFA student in IU’s Creative Writing Program and a BFC/A archives assistant, spoke with Nevline Nnaji in advance of tomorrow’s event:

_________________________

Yalie Kamara: From start to finish, how long did it take you to complete this project?

Nevline Nnaji:  Two and a half years.

YK: Can you remember the exact moment when it became clear to you that you had to pursue this documentary project?

NN: Around the time that I started film school, I’d began reading Black women’s literature. I was inspired by Elaine Brown’s A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story. It was the first time that I was made aware of the mistreatment of women in the Black Power movement. Also I had a conversation with a friend one day and she was like “you know, you could do a documentary,” and I was like “I think I can!” and once I joined the film program, that’s when I started producing it.

YK: How did you choose the archival footage/public domain footage/Creative Commons footage? What was the richest source of archival footage or was there a tapestry of different archival sources that supported the construction of this film? What were some of the workarounds that you employed in order to successfully complete this documentary?

From REFLECTIONS UNHEARD: BLACK WOMEN IN CIVIL RIGHTS

NN: I had difficulty accessing archival footage because of a lot of the copyrights that were placed on the films.  So even some older footage, that was usually captured by white photographers and filmmakers back in and the 60s and 70s and was either held in archives by those same people in whatever company they had or placed in these larger archives like Getty or even something that’s public like WGBH television. I remember the lowest that I got in that regard was like $50 per second and that was the student rate! But usually it runs from that to about $250 per second. And so that was my budget. I think [those rates] are mostly made for filmmakers who have an extremely large budget for these things and are maybe a bit more well off. And that wasn’t really the place that I was coming from. This was my first film. So this experience made me dig deeper into what was available at Library of Congress. I got a lot of footage that’s not really been seen because of how deeply you have to dig and do research in order to get this footage.

YK: Why was it important for you to focus on prolific Black female activists of 1960s and 70s without integrating the voices of contemporary, younger activists? I found this to be particularly powerful and wanted to know a bit more from your own perspective about why this was important to you.

NN: I wanted to make sure to have this documentary focus on the women who contributed to the Civil Rights era. In creating documentaries, when you have a focus, you can get a lot of out of the story, instead of just having a bunch of stuff and getting messy. It just needed to be that.

The only perspective that was not from an activist of the Civil Rights era, was Kola Boof. I included her in this documentary because of her activism work and her commentary on Black feminism and the worldwide perception of Black women.

From REFLECTIONS UNHEARD

From REFLECTIONS UNHEARD: BLACK WOMEN IN CIVIL RIGHTS

YK: I was interested in learning more about the inclusion of the archival footage that highlights the Moynihan Report as well as the Woman’s Welfare Club. What were the reasons these segments are part of the documentary?

NN: I included the Moynihan Report because it centered around the conversation about Black women. The report is evidence of certain cultural beliefs that started in the 60’s. I won’t say that this report is the cause for the belief that Black women’s role in the Black family weakens that of men’s, but this report can be seen as a type of mainstream evidence that this notion is still circulating around certain subcultures. That being the idea that Black women oppress the Black family through assuming the role of the Black male.

The Women’s Welfare Club was meant to be a transition between the conversation around white feminists and the women of color led movements. The Women’s Welfare Club shows the example of an actual organization formed for and led by Black women. It showcases resistance as a way of beginning the conversation around Black feminists and women of color led movements.

YK: Tell us a little bit more about your background. Aside from knowing that you are also a dancer and a filmmaker from Northampton, Mass., what else should we know about you as an artist? You can share whatever you’d like.

NN: That’s a really big question (laughs).

Director Nevline Nnaji

Director Nevline Nnaji

YK: Well, maybe as a starting off point, did you grow up making films? Do you come from a family of documentarians or artists? Or did you grow up creating art?

NN: You know…this film that I made, I didn’t have any film background when I made this film, when I started it. I learned as I made it. I’m an artist. I’m a natural. I’m very gifted. And I’ve always been that way and I am a bit of an outsider. And I’ve always been that way since I was a child as well.  I just consider myself to be a multidisciplinary artist. So when I have a vision or passion, I throw myself completely into it and then I dedicate myself, so I can make the vision come to life. But other than that, I love cats. Really. I’m very passionate about the kitties.  If you see any of my other films, there’s always a yellow cat in there.  Other than that, right now, my main focus is pole dancing. I’m just training a lot right now and performing.

YK: Can you tell me about your involvement with the New Negress Film Society and what it meant to you as a Black female filmmaker?

NN: We started that, the New Negress Film Society, in 2013, which was the year that I released the film and it was really exciting for me to do that. Because really that was the first kind of organization of its kind, where it was just for and about Black women filmmakers and so I think it really was my first experience forming and having a real community who had shared a similar experience as me.

And that’s really why I came to Brooklyn and it was to have that. It was an honor for me because my favorite filmmakers were Black female filmmakers who were Tisch graduates and stuff. I got to screen my film alongside one of my favorite film directors, Nikyatu Jusu. And it was just an honor for me to work with these artists and to create something like this. I am no longer a part of the New Negress Film Society, but I think we did a lot of really important work and I’m so glad that I got to be a part of it.

YK: What was the most surprising piece of feedback/response you received from your viewing audience regarding the documentary?

NN: My first ever screening of Reflections Unheard happened when I was about to graduate from Boston University and I posted it at the Women’s Resource Center and I had always thought that the TazamaFestfilm would only be appealing to Black women and that only Black women would be interested in attending. So I was very surprised to see a very diverse group of people of various genders and ages and races. I didn’t know other people would be interested and influenced by the work. I’d felt limited at the time, so this was a pleasant surprise. That it picked up in the way that it did. I was also surprised that I was able to make a living and travel from this film for a time. I never thought that the film would show in Africa, and I just went to the Congo this year where it was screened through the Tazama Film Festival, which focuses on African Women in cinema. The film was screened at the American Embassy in Congo, in front of a room of mostly Congolese men. That blew my mind. It continues to blow me away the people that are actually interested. It was beautiful.

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Reflections Unheard: Black Women in Civil Rights (2013, Dir. Nevline Nnaji)
Friday, April 8, 2016 | 3:00 p.m. | Phyllis Klotman Room at BFC/A (Wells Library 044B)

Trailer:

 


BLACK CAMERA Vol. 7, No. 1 Now Available

The latest issue of Black Camera: An International Film Journal is now available in print and online from the Indiana University Press.

Fall2015

The current issue features a Close-Up on Fugitivity and the Filmic Imagination from guest editor James Edward Ford III, including articles by Autumn Womack, Frank B. Wilderson III, Shana L. Redmond, Rizvana Bradley, David Marriott, James Edward Ford III, and M. Shadee Malaklou.

Also included in this issue are a memorial tribute to Black Film Center/Archive founding director Phyllis Klotman; articles by Michael W. Thomas and Robin Hayes; an Archival Spotlight by Whitney Strub; and a conversation and gallery feature on the films and art of Mike Henderson.

For more information about Black Camera, please visit http://www.indiana.edu/~blackcam.  To subscribe, visit http://purchase.jstor.org/products.php?issn=15363155

 


THE BLACK G.I. and NO VIETNAMESE EVER CALLED ME NIGGER conclude IU Cinema series “40 Years On: Screening the Vietnam War”

This post was prepared as an introduction to the December 3, 2015, screening of Black Journal: The Black G.I. and No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger, which concludes the series “40 Years On: Screening the Vietnam War.” The screening takes place at 7PM at the IU Cinema and will be followed by a discussion with series curator James Paasche, BFC/A director Michael T. Martin, and BFC/A graduate assistant Dorothy Berry.

This series is sponsored by WTIU, IU Cinema, the Black Film Center/Archive, the Cinema and Media Studies program, The Media School, Indiana University Center for Documentary Research and Practice, and Veteran Support Services.

 

ebony_black_soldier

The Black G.I. and No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger highlight the parallels between the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, calling to stark attention the divisive issue of race in both military and civilian life. While the draft swept through the lives of the hundreds of thousands of men, the politically and economically disenfranchised were far more likely to face selective service, and African American men were largely part of those demographics. The films in tonight’s screening highlight the still-ongoing conflict of double-consciousness – patriotic Americans who want to serve and protect their country, even though their lived experience tells them that their country does not want to protect them.

The Black G.I. is a phenomenal documentary produced by filmmaker Kent Garrett for the WNET public affairs program, Black Journal. Garrett was granted permission to go to Vietnam by the Pentagon, in the hopes that the Black Journal episode would focus on the successes of African American military officers. Though they were guided through the country by Pentagon-sponsored public information officers, Garrett and his crew were given enough freedom that they were able to document the stories of the many men who followed after them and asked to participate.

The military men in The Black G.I. tell a story of service in an incredibly segregated army. Coming from a U.S. setting where performative Blackness, especially through dress and music, had never been more important, drafted men express anger at not being able to wear their natural hair and dashikis. Beyond questions of uniformity, their real complaints are that even on the other side of the world, they are still treated as though they are on the bottom rung. Soldiers talk about being called ugly by Vietnamese people, with one solider saying “Vietnamese girls called me a nigger – I know it’s not part of their language.” The idea that there was no equity of experience runs through the Black military narratives from drafted men to the military officers.

Those officers, the ones the Pentagon wanted featured, had a different, professional and career-oriented perspective on their service, but even the most loyal of them would not deny the issues faced. While they agreed things had gotten better, as their interviews progress, the disdain at their mistreatment bubbles to the surface (while remaining below the levels of insubordination).

In Struggles for Representation: African American Documentary Film and Video, Janet Cutler [co-editor, with her mother, BFC/A founder Phyllis Klotman – Ed.] discusses the thread of radical Black Nationalism that laced through every episode of Black Journal, mentioning a specific segment titled “And We Will Survive” where a blues singer’s cry of “Have you ever been mistreated? Then you know what I’m talking about” was layered with images of Vietnamese villages and a photo of an elderly Black man holder a poster reading “No Vietnamese Ever Called me Nigger.”

Scene from the 1967 Spring Mobilization to End the War

Scene from the 1967 Spring Mobilization to End the War

That shared colonial subjectivity implied with photographic collage by Black Journal comes into focus in the second documentary of tonight’s screening, which shares its name with that very poster. No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger was filmed by director David Loeb Weiss and cameraman Michael Wadleigh on the occasion of the April 15, 1967 Spring Mobilization To End the War March. Though anti-war sentiment and a lack of support for the returning troops have become hallmarks in the collective memory of the Vietnam War, Weiss’ documentary shows a specific and separate response coming directly from and to the African American community.

The Mobilization March took place one week after Martin Luther King Jr.’s Riverside Church speech “Beyond Vietnam- A Time to Break Silence,” wherein the leader and orator protested the war, saying

We were taking the Black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem.

That sentiment – that there was a cruel irony in sending an oppressed people to fight in the name of their country for the freedom of others – is echoed in Weiss’ film, both by the protesters at the March and by the three Black Vietnam veterans, Dalton James, Preston Lay Jr., and Akmed Lorence, interviewed for the film. The three men express the same issue that Black soldiers had experienced after returning home from all major wars, that in spite of any equality gained in the military, in civilian life they were still subject to the laws of Jim Crow.

No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger

Like the soldiers in The Black G.I., James, Lay Jr. and Lorence, experienced racism in their integrated troops in Vietnam and then the further indignity felt in returning to a racist homeland. When viewed as companion pieces, The Black G.I. and No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger paint a picture of conflict – personal and institutional, domestic and international – that defined a generation of Black Americans and would shape America overall for decades to come.

~Dorothy Berry


BOAN of Contention: The 1979 IU Screenings of THE BIRTH OF A NATION

On November 12 and 13, the Black Film Center/Archive presents From Cinematic Past to Fast Forward Present: D.W. Griffith’s The Birth of a Nation – A Centennial Symposium. A full schedule of events, including keynotes, panels, and screening, is available at www.boancentennial.org. In anticipation of the symposium, BFC/A graduate assistant Dorothy Berry looks back to 1979, when “over 900 people came to see The Birth of a Nation at two very different screenings” on the campus of Indiana University, Bloomington.

James Baldwin’s 1976 description of The Birth of a Nation (BOAN) as both “one of the great classics of the American cinema” and “an elaborate justification of mass murder” succinctly captures the challenges of screening D.W. Griffith’s blockbuster film. There is no denying the seminal role of BOAN in American film history. There is also no denying the seminal role of BOAN in the resurgence of the Ku Klux Klan and the popular rewriting of the history of the Reconstruction South.

Controversies surrounding the screening of BOAN have often emerged from the intersection of those two truths. “Why shouldn’t we screen the runaway hit of 1915 that entertained hundreds of thousands?” “Why should we screen a film that has been actively used as recruitment propaganda for the Ku Klux Klan?” These questions were asked and argued on the Indiana University campus in the beginning of the 1979 spring semester when over 900 people came to see BOAN at two very different screenings.

BOAN has long been prized for its cinematic innovations and its role in the rise of film as popular entertainment. Many fans of classic film have screened BOAN simply as that – an entertaining film from the early days of the movie industry. This sort of screening was what the local chapter of the American Guild of Organists (AGO) had in mind when they sponsored a screening of BOAN at the IU Auditorium with live accompaniment from famed silent film organist, Dennis James, with a two-dollar ticket fee, as a fundraiser for the chapter. The screening was scheduled for Saturday, February 3, 1979, and was part of an ongoing silent film series.

The AGO screening was immediately met by pushback from IU students and faculty. The first complaint dealt with the issue of timing – screening BOAN in the first week of Black History Month, an observance that had only been federally recognized for three years at that point. AGO conceded this point in the face of protests and moved the screening to March 19th.

BOAN_1979

Protesters outside the IU Auditorium direct attendees to the counter-screening at Woodburn Hall, March 19, 1979. (Photo: Terry John)

The second complaint was more complex. An argument was made from faculty, students and members of the local community that BOAN should not be shown as a de-contextualized entertainment. AGO withdrew their sponsorship, but then amidst new counter-protests, decided to continue, asserting that the film had historic, artistic, and educational merit.

What makes this case study in the history of BOAN screenings so interesting, however, is that the original protestors never called for the film’s banning. The major concern dealt entirely with framing the screening. “We don’t advocate complete censorship of the film,” IU student and Black Student Union member Deborah Bailey told the Herald-Times. “What we advocate is a proper time for debate and discussion before and after the film.”

Framing concerns came to a head on March 19, 1979, when the IU campus offered two concurrent screenings of BOAN. The AGO screening with live accompaniment moved on in the auditorium, while across the campus in Woodburn Hall, a counter-screening and teach-in was scheduled to begin a half an hour later. Guided by professor of Afro-American studies Phyllis Klotman (who founded the Black Film Center/Archive at IU two years later) and film studies graduate student, Andetrie Smith, the Woodburn Hall counter-screening was inspired and organized by the Black Student Union, with support from the IU Students Association, the Residence Halls Association, and local organizations like the Monroe County NAACP branch and Black churches.

On the eve of the screenings, demonstrators gathered outside the auditorium, directing attendees to the Woodburn Hall event and handing out leaflets that advertised “Free Admission” and proper contextualization at the counter-screening. The Woodburn Hall counter-screening and teach-in ended up with around 300 attendees, nearly a full house. The IU Auditorium screening brought in 600 attendees, twice as many as the teach-in but a fairly small attendance given the venue’s 3,154 seat capacity.

Just hours before the screening and counter-screening, Dennis James, the organ accompanist, canceled his then-upcoming screening of The Ten Commandments, planned for April 15 at the IU Auditorium, saying that “I have no concept now of judging the college audience.”

~Dorothy Berry

 


Memorabilia from Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame on Exhibit at Grunwald Gallery

Phil Moore Plaque from the Supremes

Phil Moore Plaque from the Supremes

A number of items from the Mary Perry Smith/Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame (BFHFI) Archive Collection will be on display at the IU Grunwald Gallery from Friday, October 23 through Wednesday, November 18th as part of its exhibition “The Wunderkammer: Curiosities in Indiana University Collections.”

An opening reception will be held on Friday, October 23rd from 6:00-8:00 pm at the Grunwald Gallery and a noon talk will be presented by the curators and managers of several of the represented special collections on Friday, November 6th at the Gallery.

The BFC/A’s selections include movie memorabilia that was collected by the BFHFI as part of its plan to eventually open a brick and mortar museum. Featured are a painting of film actress Madame Sul-Te-Wan, hand prints created by Lena Horne and Stepin Fetchit on paper with graphite under the supervision of Oakland artist Casper Banjo, and several personal effects belonging to Hollywood composer and arranger Phil Moore.

Painting of Madame Sul-Te-Wan

Painting of Madame Sul-Te-Wan

Although the BFHFI was never able to establish its own museum, the BFC/A is excited for this opportunity to display some of the more unusual and eye-catching items from its archives as a way of illustrating the BFHFI’s far-reaching impact on thirty years of independent film and filmmakers and celebrating the life of BFHFI co-founder Mary Perry Smith.

Items from the collections at the IU Archives, Archives of African American Music and Culture, Lilly Library, Kinsey Institute, Mathers Museum of World Cultures, Art Museum, Department of Biology Herbarium, and Elizabeth Sage Costume Collection will also be represented as part of the exhibit.

Additional information about the exhibit is available on the Grunwald Gallery’s site at http://www.indiana.edu/~grunwald/exhibitions.php?pid=the-wunderkammer-curiosities-in-indiana-university-collections.


SEMBENE! directors Samba Gadjigo and Jason Silverman visit Indiana University, Oct. 19-20

With a filmography spanning over forty years, Senegal’s Ousmane Sembène (1923-2007) earned international renown as a revolutionary artist and as the “Father of African Cinema” for his indigenized filmmaking practice. Sembène eschewed Western languages and narrative style for a new cinematic aesthetic drawing from African storytelling traditions, performed in African languages (Wolof, Diola, Bambara), and expressly produced for African audiences. Sembène has been heard to say: “Africa is my ‘audience’ while the West and the ‘rest’ are only targeted as ‘markets.’” Fifty years on from his first feature production, the Black Film Center/Archive and IU Cinema celebrate his legacy with a series featuring a new documentary and digital restorations of two of his earliest films.

SEMBÈNE_fall2015_postcard_final

In addition to the October 19 screenings of La Noire De … (Black Girl) and Borom Sarret (The Wanderer), the new biographical documentary Sembène! will be shown at IU Cinema on Tuesday, October 20th, with filmmakers Samba Gadjigo and Jason Silverman scheduled to attend. This will follow a roundtable discussion with BFC/A director Michael T. Martin.

Reviewing its 2015 premiere at Sundance, Bilge Ebiri wrote that, of all the festival’s entries this year, “no film demonstrated the power of cinema more resonantly than Sembène!” The documentary chronicles Ousmane Sembène’s fascinating life as a militant artist, self-taught novelist, and “Father of African Cinema.” Using rare archival footage, animation, and the firsthand experience of Sembène expert and colleague Samba Gadjigo, the filmmakers present an honest and complex portrait of a man whose significance to modern African culture cannot be overstated.

silverman_gadjigo

Jason Silverman and Samba Gadjigo

 

Sembène! emerges also as Gadjigo’s story, as he recounts the ways that Sembène’s work transformed his life. The Mount Holyoke professor was born in Senegal, where his life was changed by Sembène’s novel, God’s Bits of Wood. After earning his PhD from the University of Illinois, Gadjigo returned to Africa to connect with the artist who had such a formative impact on his life. “We worked together for 17 years,” Gadjigo told Indiewire. “and it was an honor to help him bring his stories into the world. On the day of his death, I promised that I would not let his stories be forgotten. That’s why we made this film.”

Jason Silverman, who is the director of the cinemathèque at the Center of Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, reached out to Samba Gadjigo as part of an effort to include more African film in the center’s programming. “I knew Jason was so knowledgeable about the cinema world,” Gadjigo told BOMB Magazine, “so I told him I had all this [Sembène] material and wanted him to help me organize it. A film really wasn’t the idea so much as building a website to share all this material with the world. He looked at me and said, ‘No. We should make a movie!’”

sembene

Ousmane Sembène

 

In conjunction with the IU Cinema and BFC/A screening series, Sembène: Father of African Cinema, Black Film Center/Archive director Michael T. Martin will moderate a roundtable discussion of Sembène’s work and legacy. This discussion will follow from the previous evening’s screenings of the World Cinema Project‘s digital restorations of La Noire De … (Black Girl) and Borom Sarret (The Wanderer).

Roundtable discussion participants include:

Akin Adesokan, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature

Samba Gadjigo, Professor of French, Mount Holyoke College, and Co-Director of Sembène! (2015)

Eileen Julien, Director, Institute for Advanced Study, and Professor of French and Comparative Literature

Michael T. Martin, Director, Black Film Center/Archive, and Professor of Cinema and Media Studies, The Media School

Jason Silverman, Cinematheque Director, Center for Contemporary Arts, Santa Fe, and Co-Director of Sembène! (2015)

The event is free, and begins at 3:30 PM, before the evening’s screening of Sembène!  This series is sponsored by the Black Film Center/Archive, The Media School, the Cinema and Media Studies program, and the departments of African Studies, French and Italian, and Comparative Literature.

~Jezy Gray


Mary Perry Smith, Co-Founder of the BFHFI, Passes

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Mary Perry Smith. In addition to her roles as an educator, a philanthropist, and a promoter of black cultural heritage, Mary Perry Smith was a co-founder of Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, Inc. (BFHFI).

For over thirty years Smith played many roles within the BFHFI, as well, including serving as the first chairperson of the advisory board, coordinator and chair of the Educational Programs Committee, and board president from 1984 through the mid-1990s. Much of the organization’s archives, including records documenting its early history as a project of the Oakland Museum’s Cultural and Ethnics Affairs Guild in 1974, fell under Mary’s vigilant care.

Cultural and Ethnic Affairs Committee chairpersons Mary Perry Smith, Margot Hicks and Donald Therence with Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame inductee, Sammy Davis, Jr., 1974

Cultural and Ethnic Affairs Guild chairpersons Mary Perry Smith, Margot Hicks and Donald Therence with Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame inductee, Sammy Davis, Jr., 1974

The annual highlight of the BFHFI from 1974—1993 was its Black History Month Celebration, which included the star-studded Oscar Micheaux Awards Ceremony and a celebrity dinner and dance gala. Inductees and awardees included filmmakers and artists such as Paul Robeson, Stepin Fetchit, Gordon Parks, Sammy Davis, Jr., Diahann Carol, Dizzy Gillespie, Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Julie Dash, Spike Lee, Brock Peters, Maya Angelou, Tempest Bledsoe, Jim Brown, Madame Sul-Te-Wan, Richard Pryor, and many, many others. The celebration also included a film and lecture series, film symposium, and film competition co-hosted and co-sponsored by UC Berkeley, the Oakland Museum, and the BFHFI.

A large-scale volunteer effort, the Hall of Fame soon outgrew the resources and energy of the staff at the Oakland Museum and so it became an incorporated non-profit organization in 1978. In addition to its annual Black History Month Celebration, the BFHFI also sponsored and hosted master classes, workshops, film screenings, and other educational events throughout the year. Smith was heavily involved in the planning and oversight of many of these events. 1990 marked the start of Black Filmworks, a film festival designed to showcase landmark films and winning submissions to the annual film competition.

Mary Perry Smith with special directorial award presented posthumously to Oscar Micheaux by the Directors Guild of America, 1986

Mary Perry Smith with special directorial award presented posthumously to Oscar Micheaux by the Directors Guild of America, 1986

Besides administrative records and souvenir items, the BFHFI archives include highlights such as a dress and boots worn by Ruby Dee in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a pair of Harold Nicholas’s tap shoes, signed celebrity hand prints created under the supervision of Casper Banjo, two Oscar Micheaux novels signed by the author, an oil painting of Madame Sul-Te-Wan from the collection of early film aficionado Manny Weltman, and the papers, photographs, and audio recordings of jazz composer and arranger Phil Moore. The BFHFI’s long sought after goal was to establish a brick and mortar museum to house and exhibit items such as these. The archives also contain over 1000 video recordings that include footage of BFHFI events and nearly 20 years’ worth of submissions to the annual film competition.

Smith donated the BFHFI archives to the BFC/A in February 2014 (see previous story). Since then our staff has worked diligently to process approximately 300 boxes full of material. The media recordings are slated to undergo digital preservation as part of Indiana University’s Media Preservation and Digitization Initiative starting this fall through fall 2018. Several items will also be displayed as part of an exhibit hosted at the Grunwald Gallery located on the IU Bloomington campus from October 23rd through November 18th as a means of increasing awareness of the collection throughout and beyond the IU community.

Smith has left behind a breathtaking legacy. Her tireless efforts greatly influenced the shape and direction of the BFHFI and garnered recognition and support of black filmmakers and artists for over thirty years. Her careful stewardship of the collection has ensured that this and future generations will have access to this invaluable record of black filmmaking in the last quarter of the 20th century.

Details on a celebration of her life are forthcoming.

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