Chicago’s Hidden Treasure: The Black Cinema House

Located on Chicago’s South Side, The Black Cinema House is dedicated to screening and discussing Black films, along with teaching the local youth about film and hosting a range of film series and events.  Only in operation since October 2012, the Black Cinema House has already become a space for persons of all ages, races, and ethnicities to come and appreciate, learn, understand, and discuss Black cinema, both its history and its future.

Photo by James Toftness.

Photo by James Toftness (from rebuild-foundation.org)

The mission of the Black Cinema House (seen here):

The Black Cinema House will provide screenings and discussions of underseen works by film and video makers of the African and other diasporas in the historically underserved neighborhood of Grand Crossing in particular and the South Side of Chicago in general. Video classes and workshops will provide area youth with the skills to make their own films and tell their own stories.

Photo by Sara Pooley

Photo by Sara Pooley (from rebuild-foundation.org)

The Black Cinema House was a rehabilitation project under the Rebuild Foundation, as the foundation transformed an abandoned building in the Chicago South Side Dorchester neighborhood into a culturally significant space in about a year for the purpose of screening and discussing Black films.  In what the Rebuild Foundation calls the “Dorchester Projects,” the foundation has created three neighboring program spaces: The Listening House, The Archive House, and The Black Cinema House.  According to the Rebuild Foundation website:

Rebuild Foundation helps neighborhoods thrive through culture-driven redevelopment by activating abandoned spaces with arts and cultural programming. We transform under-resourced communities by leveraging economic and cultural resources to: strengthen, create, educate, and invest.

The Black Cinema House rebuild project was led by artist, musician, and cultural planner Theaster Gates.  The staff working at The Black Cinema House includes long-time film programmer Michael W. Phillips as the Director, and filmmaker and curator Amir George as the Programmer in Residence.  Phillips explained that he used to run a repertory theatre where he showed classic Hollywood films on Saturday nights, and said that he got involved with The Black Cinema House after Gates, his friend for several years, asked him to be a part of this project. George, film and video maker, stated that Phillips then asked him on board and thought it was something “cool” to be a part of, explaining that he believes The Black Cinema House is a “contemporary way of showing black cinema.”

Fifth-grade students learn video production.  (Photo from blackcinemahouse.org)

Fifth-grade students learn video production. (from blackcinemahouse.org)

One of the most fascinating and exciting components of The Black Cinema House is that they offer a video production class for fifth-grade students at the South Shore Fine Arts Academy in a partnership with the Community TV Network. Started in January of this year and led by teacher Whitney Smith, from CTVN, and assisted by The Black Cinema House staff Michael W. Phillips and Amir George, the class theme is “Creating Peacemakers.”  Comprised of 5th grade students from a predominantly Black nearby school, the class screens films related to that topic and discusses topics such as bullying and valuing oneself and others. Phillips stated that the class provides the kids with a “better sense of how films are made and how to consume media thoughtfully,” and allows the kids to use professional video production and documentary equipment such as the video editing software Final Cut Pro and DSLR cameras. George exclaimed that the best part of the video production class for him is “seeing the results” of what the kids are able to produce and that he enjoys seeing this group of kids taking an interest in film. For information about the youth video production class, follow the link: http://www.blackcinemahouse.org/video-class/

Currently, four ongoing film series are featured at The Black Cinema House which include: Black Cinema Is…; Image, Building, Object: Exploring Architecture and Design on Film; Chicago Film Archives Present; and, The Return of Blacklight. The series provide a space for the screening, discussion, and understanding of Black cinema as well as exploring film as a medium for expression and experimentation. The latter film series, The Return of Blacklight, is dedicated to highlighting and showcasing films from the Chicago Blacklight Film Festival that ran from 1982 until 1996. Blacklight Film Festival founder and programmer, Floyd Webb, will select his favorite films over those years and share his experiences and memories of the festival.  Michael Phillips stated in his own words that Floyd Webb is “God-sent” and that he is glad to have Webb working with them on this project and sharing his gifts.  For more on the film series, follow the link: http://www.blackcinemahouse.org/film-series/

Spencer Williams' Juke Joint screens Friday, July

BCH and CFA screen Spencer Williams’ Juke Joint, Friday, July 19

This summer, look forward to The Black Cinema House’s “Movies Under the Stars” 2013 Summer Cinema Series in partnership with Chicago Film Archives, which features open-air film screenings on select Fridays.  On July 19th, the series kicks off with Juke Joint, a classic film by African American actor and filmmaker Spencer Williams.  (You can watch Juke Joint online, courtesy of G. William Jones Film and Video Collection, Central University Libraries, Southern Methodist University.)

For more information on the Black Cinema House please visit their website: http://www.blackcinemahouse.org/ or like their Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/BlackCinemaHouse

All screenings at the Black Cinema House are free of charge.

Katrina Overby conducted phone interviews for this post with Michael Phillips and Amir George.

~Katrina Overby

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. View all posts by BFC/A

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