Filmmaker and curator Amir George visited the Black Film Center/Archive for a research residency over the first week in April 2018. In this guest blog post, he shares highlights of this first visit and plans for his second.
The vastness of the archive can be slightly overwhelming. Throughout my days spent I watched numerous films from dvds to 16mm prints. I selected 25 titles prior to my visit. I wanted to get through everything. The vault was holding onto a time warp of cinematic wonder that I only peeked at on the first day.
I’ve been interested in tracing a black cinematic vernacular. A black aesthetic within the thread of LA Rebellion films in relation to films Black Audio & Sankofa Film Collectives. Noticing a stylistic comparison between Ben Caldwell’s I & I and John Akomfrah’s work. The use of the background character in the spotlight. I was processing.
I started watching the films of Jamaa Fanaka. The only one of Fanaka films I was anxious to see was Welcome Home Brother Charles (1975), the copy in the archive is called Soul Vengeance. Fanaka’s A Day in the Life of Willie Faust, or Death on the Installment Plan (1972) was a highlight for me, I stumbled upon it on the LA Rebellion DVD in search of Barbara McCullough’s Water Ritual 1: An Urban Rite of Purification (1979). The Penitentiary films (1979 and 1982) by Fanaka were not available during my visit.
I got to see a print of Larry Clark’s Passing Through (1977). The film stars Nathaniel Taylor, who also played the lead actor in Clark’s As Above So Below (1973). The editing techniques of Clark in Passing Through are a rhythmic pattern aligning with black visual aesthetics. The jazz players and their horns fade to silhouettes in and out of the opening. The cinematography of Malik Sayeed comes to mind.
During my visit, I also wanted to further examine the filmography of Melvin Van Peebles, so I began with Watermelon Man (1970). Watching that film for the first time made me imagine what if that story was to be told now, maybe reversed. The voice Melvin brings to his films is very abrupt, and I’ve been adopting abruptness as a rhythmic pattern of black visual aesthetics in my own work. Blackness is abrupt, as is life. From what I got to see of it, abrupt happenings occur throughout Melvin’s film Don’t Play Us Cheap (1973). The film was originally a musical and takes place on a stage-like set-up in the movie starring Esther Rolle.
There are still a few titles of Van Peebles and others such as The Landlord (1970) by Bill Gunn that I still seek to view. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to mine the archive as I look forward to returning to find more treasures.
Amir George is a filmmaker and curator. Born and bred in Chicago. Amir creates work for the cinema, installation, and live performance. Amir’s motion picture work has been screened at film festivals including Ann Arbor Film Festival, Trinidad and Tobago International Film Festival, BlackStar Film Festival, Afrikana Film Festival, and Chicago Underground Film Festival as well as cultural institutions, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, Anthology Film Archives, Glasgow School of Art, Museum of Contemporary Arts, Los Angeles, and Museum of Contemporary Arts Detroit. Amir has organized cinematic themed symposiums at Cooper Union, and Talbot Rice Gallery at the University of Edinburgh. Amir has curated exhibitions at Transmission Gallery Scotland, and Silent Funny Chicago. In addition to founding The Cinema Culture, a grassroots film programming organization, Amir is the co-founder of Black Radical Imagination a touring experimental short film series with Erin Christovale.