Author Archives: BFC/A

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.

Amir George: Notes Toward Another Visit

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

amir


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.

 


Honoring Mrs. Alice B. Russell Micheaux

Through the efforts of BFC/A director Terri Francis, independent silent film historian Lina Accurso, and a generous community of individual donors, arrangements are in place to set a memorial headstone at the unmarked grave of Mrs. Alice B. Russell Micheaux in 2018.

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Mrs. Micheaux was a pioneering film actress and film producer, as well as the second wife of renowned African American filmmaker, Oscar Micheaux.  Alice Micheaux performed in The Broken Violin (1927), and in Oscar’s films including Murder in Harlem (1935), God’s Step Children  (1938) and The Betrayal (1948).  She collaborated with her husband as script supervisor and casting associate on Lying Lips (1939) and miscellaneous crew on Swing! (1938), Murder in Harlem (1935), Ten Minutes to Live (1932) and The Girl from Chicago (1932).

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Mrs. Micheaux spent her final years as a ward of the state suffering from dementia, and was buried in 1985 in an unmarked pauper’s grave at the Greenwood Union Cemetery in Rye, New York.

On April 11, 2018, at 11:00 am, we invite you to gather at the site in Greenwood Union Cemetery, Rye, NY, for for a meaningful remembrance of Mrs. Micheaux’s life and her vital contributions to early African American cinema as a producer, actress, script supervisor, and spouse to Oscar Micheaux. We plan to honor Mrs. Micheaux with a floral arrangement, music from Jasmine Muhammad, and a blessing from Rev. Martha Cruz, a member of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, local to Rye. Please join us and share the event information linked here.

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Due to the long New York winter, we unfortunately will not be able to pour the foundation for the rose quartz marker on this occasion, but it will be in place by the anniversary of Mrs. Micheaux’s birth on June 30.


Announcing the second 2018 cycle of the BFC/A Visiting Research Fellowships

The Black Film Center/Archive in The Media School at Indiana University-Bloomington is pleased to announce the second cycle of the 2018 Black Film Center/Archive Visiting Research Fellowships to support research toward a dissertation, thesis, publication, presentation, or production. These competitive fellowships for visiting researchers residing outside the Bloomington area are intended to advance the study of black film and media and to promote research in the collections at the BFC/A by filmmakers, graduate students, independent scholars, and faculty members at any rank. Scholars and filmmakers currently working or studying at an HBCU are strongly encouraged to apply.

About the BFC/A

Established in 1981, the Black Film Center/Archive is the first archival repository dedicated to collecting, preserving, and making available historically and culturally significant films by and about people of African descent around the world as well as recognizing forgotten creators and re-discovering overlooked works and documents.

BFCA Location

 

Location

The BFC/A is located in Bloomington, Indiana.  Bloomington is within a day’s drive of cities including Chicago, IL (196 mi.), Detroit, MI (335 mi.), St. Louis, MO (227 mi.), Nashville, TN (270 mi.), Louisville, KY (105 mi.), Columbus, OH (225 mi.) and more.  For access by air travel, convenient flights are available into the Indianapolis International Airport, located 45 mi. north of Bloomington.

Collections

The resources of the BFC/A include print, graphic, manuscript, and audiovisual research materials.  Collections include the papers of early race film producer and distributor Richard E. Norman; the archives of the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, Inc.; research papers from creatives, collectors, and scholars including Camille Billops, James Hatch, J. Ronald Green, and Josef Gugler; original film and video elements from artists including Jessie Maple, Alile Sharon Larkin, Bridgett M. Davis, S. Torriano Berry, and others.  More information about the BFC/A’s collections is available online at http://www.indiana.edu/~bfca/collections/.

Awards

Individual fellowship awards of up to $1500 each will be presented in support of travel, local accommodations, and/or research expenses. Awards must be used within one year of the award date and recipients must conduct research on-site at the archives in Bloomington during the period of their awards.

How to Apply

Applicants are asked to submit a brief research proposal, not to exceed three pages (double-spaced) with a cover page indicating basic information such as name, affiliation, title of the project, and amount requested. Project proposals should demonstrate that the BFC/A’s resources are integral to proposed research topics and creative endeavors. Candidates are encouraged to inquire with BFC/A staff about the feasibility of a proposed topic and research plan before applying.

The proposal should (a) emphasize the relationship of the BFC/A collections to the project, (b) include the length and preferred dates of the visit, which may include the summer months and (c) detail a budget specific to this research proposal which includes travel costs, living and research expenses, and any other source of financial support for this research trip. Applicants are also asked to submit a résumé or CV; for graduate students or other researchers whose résumés do not include a list of publications in their fields of research, two confidential letters of recommendation are also required.

Application Deadline: August 15, 2018

Award Notifications by September 15, 2018

Send applications for the Black Film Center/Archive Visiting Research Fellowship to:

Terri Francis, Director
Black Film Center/Archive
1320 E 10th Street, Wells Library 044
Bloomington IN 47405
bfca@indiana.edu (Visiting Research Fellowships in the subject line)
Phone: (812) 855-6041
Fax: (812) 856-5832


A Few Words with Amir George: BFC/A Visiting Disruptor, Filmmaker, Curator

This week the Black Film Center/Archive hosts Amir George for a multifaceted viewing and thinking retreat during which he plans to immerse himself in rare and must-see black films from our collections as well as produce new reflections on the idea of the archive and how it feeds his filmmaking process.

On April 4, 11:30AM – 12:45PM in Franklin Hall 304, Amir screens MEDITATION ON AN ARCHIVE, a program of short films, or “meditations,” drawn from his research at Chicago Film Archives and re-processed through his own nostalgia and artistic search for joyful black images.

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Amir’s work moves beyond the literal and analytical as he seeks a kind of cinematic mysticism, embedded within and inspired by the images he selects. In their form and content, Amir’s moving image meditations evoke themes of ecstatic interiority and collective revelation.

In the conversation below, Amir describes his motivations as a filmmaker and his personal search for an elusive (black) identity in film.

 

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BFC/A: How did you get your start as a filmmaker?

Amir: I always enjoyed storytelling. My parents are cinephiles. Once I learned the tools, I went to and then left film school. I figured it out from there and am still learning. Deciding to take an experimental approach came from seeing the lack of black identity in that form of cinema. I love nostalgia and I use that in my work. I engage my family in projects as a way of creating this new archive for us, like in my film Black Gold. It’s my mom and my niece singing to a song I wrote. I’m taking on a fetishization of memory to insert more archival ideas into my stories.

 

BFC/A: What’s the timing of your relationship to filmmaking and to curating? Did you always do both? Or did one follow the other?

Amir: Filmmaking was always first for me. The curating came out of organizing film screenings throughout Chicago and my curatorial practice definitely influences my filmmaking practice and vice versa.

 

BFC/A: You have repurposed materials from Chicago Film Archives. What are you making there? Another archive? A narrative out of disparate pieces?

Amir: I’ve made one project with Chicago Film Archives. I was intentionally seeking all their images of black people. I wanted to create something mystical. Looking for intersections. I pulled pieces that are rich yet unseen. I’m always interested in the images of black people outside of struggle and hardship. I want to pull some kind of joy out of the images.

 

BFC/A: A curator is someone who takes care (of materials, spaces, and even ideas). What is that you are caring for in your work?

Amir: I’m recently learning how to care for myself through my curatorial pursuits, while I’m also learning how to be a better curator.  I like to be a disruptor of space so I’m imagining possibilities in that manner.

amir

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.

 

 


Moving Pictures by Amir George

During filmmaker/curator Amir George‘s research residency at the Black Film Center/Archive next week, he will present a short film program at The Media School, Meditation on An Archive.  The midday program takes place at the Franklin Hall screening room (304) on April 4, 11:30am-12:45pm.

 

MEDITATION ON AN ARCHIVE

One image influences another. Meditation on An Archive is amalgamation of a myriad of archives that Amir has been exposed to and he has drawn into his work.

Amir will briefly introduce his films and discuss his process of working with archival materials to make new moving pictures.

 

Shades of Shadows,  2015, 7 min

Commissioned by Chicago Film Archives. Shades of Shadows is a collaboration with psychedelic soul band The O’Mys, that delves into spiritual mysticism and ritual sacrifice. Created with all archival footage, the characters in the film seek to manifest a better self.

 

The Encompassed Wisdom of the Inevitable Manifestation, 1 min

A spell casting of images guided by a voice in the night

 

Black Gold,  1 min

Black Gold is a 8mm treasure hunt, a traditional song of black beauty.

 

Optimum Continuum (v.2.7)  12 min

An ever changing and on going barrage of blackness always in progress. Abrupt patterns, part of and as a whole.

 

The Meditation – 30 min

A archive of journals, excess, and experiences.

amir

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.

 

 


A *Late* Read on Black Panther and the Dichotomies Within

I’m late to the party – practically a whole month –  but I have a lot of thoughts about Black Panther. When discussing blackness, there is always the issue of “doubleness” – for me personally, I think a lot about duality when thinking about this film. It is the nature of superhero films to have opposing characters, or they don’t work. “Good vs. evil” is a necessary device of the genre. However, an additional layers of complexity are added when blackness is part of the equation. I’ve heard the film called many things by my friends and colleagues – sensational, neoliberal, contrarian, groundbreaking, boring – the list goes on. For me, it feels hard to critique this film, as though negative critique betrays my blackness; having only positive commentary is equally as egregious and showcases a fear of critically engaging with works produced by members of my community. Alas, we shall go forward. I’ve only seen the film once, and I’m still processing. This blog is basically me airing out my thoughts.

First, I must admit, in the same vein as VSB writer Panama Jackson, that I don’t know a thing about Black Panther, as it pertains to the Marvel universe. I don’t believe this takes away from one’s ability to critically examine the film, however, it would disallow someone to understand the built in features that come with a Marvel product. Furthermore, it denotes a lack of background that may be necessary when profiling a character for the sake of analysis. Overall, I think that that film, like most hero films, centers itself upon the relationship between the hero and villain characters: T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and Killmonger (Michael B Jordan).

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Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger (Left), Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa (Right).

The film gives me Martin vs. Malcolm vibes, in terms of the conflict between T’Challa and Killmonger. I think that there’s interesting commentary that Black Panther raises on the state of black liberation today, but I’m not sure what it is saying exactly. The plot feels thin – I think this where my biggest disconnect with the film is. Unpopular opinion, but it didn’t hold my attention. I get that it’s a superhero movie and though it can contain philosophical platitudes, this is not ultimately its responsibility. It’s a Hollywood blockbuster – another dichotomy comes to mind, between the worlds of industrial film vs. art cinema. This film isn’t nebulous on where it stands, but it feels like it could do so much more.

The women in this film are the people pushing Wakandan society forward and keeping it functioning on a daily basis. Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) collects intel on behalf of the nation and is a member of the Dora Milaje. Okoye (Danai Gurira) serves as the head of the Dora Milaje. Most notable to me was Shuri (Letitia Wright), the 16-year-old who is responsible for technological innovation on the island.

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Letitia Wright as Shuri, preparing to serve an L.

Her character was by far the most interesting in the film, as she exhibited the very real notion of black women being on the technological forefront (read: Sherrell Dorsey), the idea of youth advancing the society and the seemingly opposing forces of advancement and tradition. The world of this film does not function without its women – I think it could have been made stronger with more backstory, on at least one of them. The two hours may have felt more complete with this addition.

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Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia (Left) and Danai Gurira as Okoye (Right).

Technically speaking, I have to address the music and sound, as a sound artist myself. Kendrick Lamar curated soundtrack notwithstanding – from my memory, none of those songs appeared outside of the credits – the score felt lackluster. I am a huge fan of Ludwig Göransson, by proxy of Donald Glover, but some of the musical choices felt off. I understood the trap association that was being emphasized in relation to Killmonger, but thought that it was a bit heavy handed. There were a few scenes where I felt like the percussive nature of the instrumentals deflated the dialogue by making it harder to hear. The sound design was generally good, but something about the reverb during the ancestral scenes took me out of the picture. It sounded spacious, yet not ethereal and otherworldly.

I don’t believe in perfect films – if one exists, I haven’t seen it. Black Panther isn’t exempt from this, but it isn’t without its successes. The character dynamics are incredibly complex – I left wanting to know more about each character, and their backstories. I’m all for Afrofuturism being presented in the mainstream, and with other productions (e.g. Ava DuVernay’s excellent rendition of A Wrinkle in Time) also pulling from this aesthetic, it looks like it may be here for a while. After reading a disheartening article on a Chinese audience’s reaction to the film, it was clear to me why this film is important beyond the American context. If media is the forerunner of public perception, then Black Panther is a great offering of humanized black characters for the world to behold.

~Elijah Pouges


Idrissa Ouedraogo, 1954-2018

“[Our country] has lost a filmmaker of immense talent,” said Burkina Faso president Roch Marc Christian Kaboré.

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Portrait of Idrissa Ouedraogo, 1991, from BBC West Africa (no photographer or other info available) [COL 12 PA 16].  From the Josef Gugler African and Middle Eastern Film Collection, 1947-2013, Black Film Center/Archive, Indiana University – Bloomington. 

It is with heavy hearts that we at the BFC/A recognize and mourn the death of prolific Burkinabé filmmaker Idrissa Ouedraogo. He passed in Ouagadougou on February 18th, 2018. His films focused on conflicts between traditional life and modernity in Burkina Faso, and across Africa.  Ouedraogo went to great lengths to create his films, and studied his craft in both Kiev and Paris.

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Ouedraogo during production of KINI AND ADAMS, 1997, from Noé Productions [COL 12 PA 150]. From the Josef Gugler African and Middle Eastern Film Collection, 1947-2013, Black Film Center/Archive, Indiana University – Bloomington.  

A seminal work of Ouedraogo’s, Tilaï, premiered in 1990 at Toronto’s Festival of Festivals. The film later went on to win the Grand Prix award at Cannes the same year and the Étalon de Yennenga at FESPACO in 1991. The film casts a critical lens on familial honor with traditional African societies.

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Idrissa Ouedraogo receiving Stallion of Yennenga for Tilai at FESPACO ’91 (Photographer unlisted) [COL 12 PA 15]. From the Josef Gugler African and Middle Eastern Film Collection, 1947-2013, Black Film Center/Archive, Indiana University – Bloomington. 

For members of the IU Bloomington community, Ouedraogo’s Tilaï is available to stream online through IU Libraries’ kanopy service. Tilaï and other works including Kini and Adams, Yam Daabo, and Samba Traoré are available for classroom and research viewing through the Black Film Center/Archive.  Some of the BFC/A holdings related to Ouedraogo from the Josef Gugler African and Middle Eastern Film Collection can be found online here, with additional materials available for research on-site.

~Elijah Pouges