Zeinabu irene Davis, a filmmaker and professor at UCSD, will be in Bloomington to present her 1999 feature film, Compensation, at the IU Cinema on Friday, February 20, at 6:30 PM. This screening is free but ticketed.
Earlier on Friday at 1:00 PM, Davis will be at the BFC/A in Wells Library 044 to present and discuss clips from her documentary work-in-progress, Spirits of Rebellion: Black Film at UCLA, and her 2010 documentary short, Momentum: A Conversation with Black Women on Achieving Advanced Degrees. If interested in attending the 1PM event, please RSVP to firstname.lastname@example.org as seating is limited.
Also during her visit, Davis will meet with students in CMCL instructor Russell Sheaffer’s class, C335: Production as Criticism: DIY Filmmaking, and with student leaders of campus diversity organizations.
Compensation, Davis’s first feature, presents two unique African American love stories between a deaf woman and a hearing man, both set in Chicago a century apart. Inventive use of sign language and intertitles makes the film accessible for deaf and hearing audiences.
Davis’ visit will commence the two-part series “Black Silence: Films by Zeinabu irene Davis and Charles Lane” at the IU Cinema. Decades before The Artist sparked an international silent revival, two independent features—Charles Lane’s Sidewalk Stories and Zeinabu irene Davis’ Compensation—bookended the heyday of the Black New Wave with bold formal experiments incorporating markers of silent cinema into contemporary explorations of friendship, social inequality, and Black experience. Davis and Lane’s films, which both evoke the silent era by choice, will each be paired with a short film that is silent by technological necessity.
Davis began her filmmaking career as a member of the L.A. Rebellion—the first group of African American filmmakers to graduate from UCLA’s film school. The first films made by artists in the group, known as their “Project One” films, were silent 8mm or 16mm shorts. These films made use of the limitations and possibilities of silent, small-gauge filmmaking to explore issues and everyday realities relevant to African American audiences. Compensation will follow Daydream Therapy (1977), the “Project One” film directed by fellow L.A. Rebellion filmmaker Bernard Nicolas. Filmed in Burton Chace Park in Marina del Rey, this short film poetically envisions the fantasy life of a hotel worker whose daydreams provide an escape from workplace indignities, set to Nina Simone’s “Pirate Jenny.”
Sidewalk Stories tells the story of a modern day “tramp” and his unlikely friendship with a lost child. Lane pairs the playful, comedic charm of Chaplin with the often harrowing social realism of Lionel Rogosin to explore class relations and homelessness in late 1980s New York City. Lane remains faithful to silent cinema style, while exploring themes of race and social inequalities that were largely absent throughout the American film cannon.
Lane’s film will follow early comic star Bert Williams’ A Natural Born Gambler (1916). The rare silent era film to be produced and directed by an African American will provide a point of comparison, as well as a striking point of departure to Lane’s feature. Williams’ performance reflects his vaudeville persona, which made use of stereotypes that appealed to mostly white audiences (cheating, trickery, buffoonery, and heavy minstrel dialect); at the same time, Williams’ comic gifts and leading role (both on screen and behind the camera as writer and director) made him a beloved and impressive figure during a time when African Americans were denied such recognition.
The print for A Natural Born Gambler is preserved by The Museum of Modern Art with support from The Lillian Gish Trust for Film Preservation. Thank you to the Museum of Modern Art Film Preservation Center for the generous loan of their 35mm print. Live piano accompaniment will be provided by IU Jacobs School of Music student Shawn McGowan.
Thanks to Zenabu irene Davis for the use of her personal 16mm print of Compensation as held in trust by the UCLA Film & Television Archive. The Digibeta of Daydream Therapy is also being provided by the UCLA Film & Television Archive.