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.

Black Film Center/Archive awarded 2015 NEH grant

From the IU Newsroom:

The Black Film Center/Archive at IU Bloomington received a $150,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities to fund the project “Richard E. Norman and Race Filmmaking: Reprocessing and Digitization.”

The NEH has awarded $572,000 in grants to Indiana University in this current cycle, including more than $450,000 at the Bloomington campus.  Other projects receiving NEH funding at IU Bloomington include the Archives of Traditional Music, which was awarded $275,000 to digitally preserve one of the largest collections of unique ethnographic wax cylinders outside of the Library of Congress.

Poster for Richard E. Norman's lost final feature, BLACK GOLD.

Poster for Richard E. Norman’s lost final feature, BLACK GOLD.

Richard E. Norman project

The Black Film Center/Archive will produce a new finding aid for the collection of Richard E. Norman, a pioneer in development of films for African-American audiences. Project staff, working in partnership with IU Libraries Digital Collections Services, will enhance this online resource with over 20,000 digitized items from the archive.

“The Norman Collection constitutes a unique resource for the study of the formation of American cinema in general and the history of race films in particular,” said Michael T. Martin, director of the Black Film Center/Archive and a professor of American studies and of communication and culture in The Media School. “Arguably, of no less importance to both histories as the Lincoln Motion Picture Co. and Micheaux Picture Corp. are, this grant ensures the preservation and access of our Norman holdings for current and future generations of researchers, film historians and the public, as it will be to the teaching mission of Indiana University.”

In the early 1900s, Norman, a southern-born white filmmaker, was among a small group of so-called race filmmakers who set out to produce black-oriented pictures to counteract the racist caricatures that had dominated cinema from its inception.

Norman began his filmmaking career in the Midwest before relocating his Norman Film Studios to Jacksonville, Fla., where from 1919 to 1928 he produced silent feature films featuring leading black actors and actresses. He cast his actors in positive roles such as a banker, businessman and cowboy, and not in demeaning roles often given to African Americans by Hollywood. In his 1926 feature, “The Flying Ace,” he notably depicted an African-American pilot in the U.S. Armed Forces — an impossible career in reality for a black man until 1940.

Apart from short fragments, all but one of Norman’s films are now lost, making the collection at IU even more important. His lone surviving film, “The Flying Ace,” was restored by the Library of Congress in 2010 and screened at IU in 2013 as part of the “Regeneration in Digital Contexts: Early Black Film” conference. (Note: Full proceedings of that conference are available online here.)

Norman’s archive at IU — an extensive collection of his personal and professional correspondence, detailed theatrical distribution records, original shooting scripts and other records — is among the most important resources for the study of early African-American film and movie-going culture from 1912 to 1954. Norman ceased film production with the advent of the sound era, but he remained active in the motion picture industry as a distributor and owner of theaters.

“Since the 2013 publication of Barbara Tepa Lupack’s scholarly biography on Norman, we’ve seen a surge of research interest in Norman’s collection from scholars internationally,” said Brian Graney, archivist of the Black Film Center/Archive and principal investigator on the Norman project. “This support from NEH will greatly increase the discoverability of Norman’s records and make them readily available as digital resources for remote research and new forms of scholarship on African-American movie-going.”

The collection was donated by Norman’s son, Capt. Richard E. Norman Jr., to the Black Film Center/Archive under its founding director Phyllis Klotman, emeritus professor of African American and African diaspora studies, who died late last month.

The Short Films of Abderrahmane Sissako, Thursday 4/16 at IU Cinema

“I think the main source of my inspiration is human beings: my neighbor, my neighbor’s neighbor, the person I buy milk from—all of those people.” – Abderrahmane Sissako


Abderrahmane Sissako

Born in Mauritania and raised in Mali, Abderrahmane Sissako is often described as a filmmaker who expresses a particularly African point of view to an international audience. Although “African filmmaker” is both too expansive and too limiting of a label for Sissako, he has remarked that he is concerned with the generalized way that African people are presented in film and media. In a recent interview with Film Comment, he laments, “Africans are portrayed in a way that makes their issues seem mysterious, when in fact they’re really in many ways no different from Europeans.” Alternately, Sissako works from a deeply humanist perspective. Shot on location in places including Moscow, Tunisia, and Ethiopia, Sissako’s short films, made between 1991-2010, give a sense of the international scope of his body of work and provide insight into his unbounded interest in humanity.


Still from October

October (1993), follows an African student studying in Moscow and his Russian girlfriend, who contemplates abortion on the eve of his departure.  Tiya’s Dream (2008), one of eight shorts on the Millennium Goals Development film 8, follows a young Ethiopian school girl with a rich imagination and an ailing father. In Sabriya (1997), shot in the desert of southern Tunisia, brothers Said and Youssef bide their time playing chess at a café in male-dominated Maghrebi society. When a free-spirited woman named Sarra pays a visit to her mother’s homeland, she brings excitement to the quiet outpost, but disrupts daily routines and long-held traditions when one of the brothers falls in love with her.

These short works explore universal matters of love, friendship, suffering, and desire that motivate human interaction and govern daily life. Yet the specificity of place, and the ways that geography, architecture, and culture shape experience, is also central to these films. October and Sabriya, for instance, both feature characters who travel to unfamiliar landscapes and become involved in romances complicated by race, religion, and tradition. Cultural misunderstandings abound as the source of both humor and conflict. However, these exchanges represent a breakdown in communication, rather than fundamental difference.

Sabriya 04

Still from Sabriya

Sissako’s films often begin at a turning point, or just prior to a moment when the otherwise quotidian lives of his characters have been ruptured. But even when circumstances drastically change for these characters, it remains understated. The most pressing issues are rarely confronted head on. The silent tensions in his films are familiar, but frustrating, as we want fictional characters to say what often goes unspoken in real life. However, Sissako has called regular human beings his primary source of inspiration, the “anonymous” people like our neighbors and shopkeepers, who we pass by but hardly see: Real people who function in the world without a script.


Still from Tiya’s Dream (2008)

In his Film Comment interview, Sissako mentions the achievements that go unnoticed, like a seemingly ordinary woman who has given birth to 10 children, as especially profound. This remark is quite telling, as it is more often women’s stories that go untold. Sissako’s films, alternately, turn our attention to the unseen. Significantly, his films frequently place the dreams, desires, and struggles of girls and women, into the foreground.

The Short Film Program (1991-2010) includes all of Sissako’s short works and will screen this Thursday, April 16th at 9:30 PM as part of the retrospective series “Transnational Poetic Cinema: Abderrahmane Sissako” at the Indiana University Cinema. The program follows a screening of Sissako’s Timbuktu, nominated for the 2014 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film (Mauritania) and winner of France’s Cesar Award for Best Film. Sissako will be present for the Timbuktu screening, and again on Friday for the screening of his 2006 feature Bamako at 6:30 PM. He will also deliver the Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Lecture this Friday, April 17th, at 3:00 PM.

This series is sponsored by the College Arts and Humanities Institute, African Studies Program, the Black Film Center/ Archive, the Department of Comparative Literature, the Department of History, Film and Media Studies, The Media School, the Office of the Vice President for International Affairs, the Russian and East European Institute, and the IU Cinema. Special thanks to Cultural Services of the French Embassy, Institut Français, Amélie Garin-Davet, and Marissa Moorman.

Sexuality and the Black Radical Imagination symposium, Friday, April 10

On Friday, April 10, the Department of Gender Studies and the College of Arts and Sciences will host the Sexuality and the Black Radical Imagination symposium, an exploration of the importance of black radical imagination to gender and sexual politics in 21st century black communities.

This daylong event will be a transformative interdisciplinary conversation between emerging dynamic scholars in the fields of Gender and Sexuality Studies and African American Studies.

Featured speakers include:

  • C. Riley Snorton, Assistant Professor in Africana Studies and Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Cornell University.
  • Amber Jamilla Musser, Assistant Professor of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Washington University in St. Louis.
  • Ariane Cruz, Assistant Professor in the Department of Women’s Studies at The Pennsylvania State University.
  • Kai M. Green, Postdoctoral Fellow in Sexuality Studies and African American Studies at Northwestern University.

The event begins at 2:00 PM on April 10, 2015, at the Neal Marshall Black Culture Center, 275 N. Jordan Ave., in Theater Room A201.

The event flier is online here.  For more information, contact L.H. Stallings at 812-855-0101 /

In Memoriam: Phyllis R. Klotman, Founder of the Black Film Center/ Archive

Phillis R. Klotman, founder of the Black Film Center/ Archive and professor emerita in the department of African American and African Diaspora Studies, died on March 30th at her home in Manhattan.


Phyllis R. Klotman, 1924-2015

“She was one of the first to preserve black independent films, and in doing that, she encouraged us,” Charles Burnett remarked in his interview with the New York Times following Klotman’s passing. The Times’ obituary recounts many of Klotman’s contributions to the study and preservation of black cinema during her tenure at Indiana University, including: the establishment of the BFC/A, the founding of the Black Camera newsletter (now Black Camera: An International Film Journal), and the publication of Frame by Frame: A Black Filmography (1979).


Professor Klotman also conducted interviews with filmmakers Larry Clark, Kathleen Collins, Julie Dash, Charles Burnett, Marlon Riggs, and Zeinabu irene Davis, just to name a few. Collecting interviews with filmmakers continues to be part of the Black Film Center/ Archive’s mission, and Klotman’s transcripts and audio recordings are available on site. In 2012, following celebrations of her legacy upon the 30th anniversary of the BFC/A’s founding, a classroom and screening venue at the new BFC/A facility was named “The Phyllis Klotman Room” in her honor.

The BFC/A holdings include several photographs that document Professor Klotman’s time at IU and at the BFC/A. Below is a photo gallery of some of our favorites of Klotman with colleagues, visiting filmmakers, and other notable public figures.

Photo Gallery


Phyllis R. Klotman with Shirley Chisholm, 1973

From left to right: Phyllis Klotman, Alile Sharon Larkin, Frances Stubbs, Gloria Gibson

From left to right: Klotman, Alile Sharon Larkin, Frances Stubbs, Gloria Gibson

From left to right: Julie Dash, Monique Threatt, Phyllis Klotman

From left to right: Julie Dash, Monique Threatt, Phyllis Klotman

Camille Billops and Phyllis Klotman

Camille Billops and Phyllis Klotman

Zeinabu irene Davis and Phyllis Klotman

Zeinabu irene Davis and Phyllis Klotman

Phyllis Klotman with Maya Angelou

Phyllis Klotman with Maya Angelou

Phyllis Klotman with Marlon Riggs

Phyllis Klotman with Marlon Riggs

Klotman and Sembene0001

Ousmane Sembene and Phyllis Klotman

Phyllis Klotman with Scatman Crothers

Phyllis Klotman with Scatman Crothers

See also: 

“Phyllis R. Klotman, Archivist of African-American Cinema, Dies at 90,” New York Times, Apr. 5, 2015

Leslie Houin, “The Black Film Center/Archive: Thirty Years of Archival and Educational Progress” Black Journal 3 no. 2 (Spring 2012): 220-236.

Afrosurrealist Film Society: Conversation with Terri Francis, Part 2 – Blues Cinema

“The blues connects all my work on home movies, Caribbean cinema and experimental film.”– Terri Francis

Last week, part one of my interview with IU professor Terri Francis, founder of the Afrosurrealist Film Society, focused on “Afrosurrealism” as a conceptual framework and highlighted the work of Akosua Adoma Owusu, the first visiting filmmaker of the series. In anticipation of our next visiting filmmaker, Mike Henderson, we’re picking up where we left off to discuss Francis’ work on “Blues Cinema” and the relationship between the blues and black independent filmmaking.   – Noelle Griffis, BFC/A


Stills from Henderson’s 16mm films. Left: The Shape of Things (1981) Right: Three stills from Dufus (1970/73)

NG: In your Black Camera interview with Kevin Jerome Everson, “Of the Ludic, the Blues, and the Counterfeit,” you write, “Family Pictures” or “blues cinema” is about the various means by which African American cinema steps into the vacuum where real family photographs and home movies have been lost to migrations, floods, and the precariousness of black life in America.” Are your notions of “Afrosurrealism” and “blues cinema” related?

 TF: Well, I thought of blues cinema and Afrosurrealism at different times. And when I wrote about blues cinema I wasn’t really thinking of experimentation. I came across references to the blues in my research on Warrington Hudlin, Kathleen Collins and other independent filmmakers here at the Black Film Center/Archive back in 2007 or 2008. They meant to evoke a sense of the everyday and the ordinary and work I think. Hudlin used the blues to talk about a film he shot in New Haven. Later on when I started thinking about form, I found myself drawn to the bluesiness of a lot of black experimental films. Afrofuturism, alternately, doesn’t have that worn look generally – it doesn’t look handmade. I feel like most of the work I see connected to that is actually futuristic, slick, smooth and new looking because it is probably digital. Which makes sense since it is about the future and technology as a mechanism of futuring.

Frances Bodomo’s Afronauts might have been digital but then it is about a handmade space shuttle. So it’s in-between. But I guess everything is handmade at some level.

There might be something in Afrosurrealism about evoking a past. Kevin Everson’s films re-tell the past. His filmmaking walks a line between fiction and nonfiction that I think of as Afrosurrealist. When experimental films are doing their most exciting work they are delving into an interior, they are introspective and they explore the past an as imaginary.


Century (Kevin Jerome Everson, 2012)

NG: How do you see these films by Everson and others as a form of the blues?

TF: I personally respond to the blues – films that look roughly textured, that weep, that mourn and long. Films evoke the ruined, labored or even wounded. Like they had been lost, buried or burned and still smoking. An aftermath. If I made films they would all look like we barely got away. The fact that the blues are rural might make us forget their radical experimentations with form and feeling. Blues musicians are easy to caricature because they have been so commodified and we can easily forget their depth even while citing them.

Mike Henderson’s 16mm films have a greater sense of absurdity and humor than the other films we’ve been talking about. There’s a strong DIY aesthetic that I just love and I’m fascinated by the descriptions of Henderson’s paintings as gestural, with large brush strokes, spread and layered thick, then scraped away. How would you do that in a film? I used “blues cinema” as a metaphor but Henderson is actually a blues musician with a substantial collection of experimental films. I’d love to hear him talk about the relationships between the lyrics, the music, the paintings and the filmmaking. But I don’t want to get too caught up in making him representative of blues filmmaking because that might be too literal and too easy. From what I’ve read he used out of date stock sometimes. He shot reversal. His films remind me of Blonde Cobra (1963) and Little Stabs at Happiness (1959-1963) where it’s guys playing around in costumes. Identity and the gaze. Performance. Big ideas but it’s “just another notion.” Henderson’s films seem both really well thought out but full of accidents and discoveries yet not embarrassing or vulgar. They seemed performative and introspective. The richness of the 16mm and all that is put in front of the camera contrasts with the elemental structure of something like Money Done or King David. The earlier ones recall Ken Jacobs and even Hollis Frampton more strongly than the later ones which are abstract in a different way. That’s at first glance. I’d love the chance to look at them more closely. I thought of Renee Cox’s photograph Yo Mama’s Last Supper and Robert Colescott’s painting Lightening Lipstick (which you can see at IU Art Museum) –the approach and scale of ideas. Other Bay area filmmakers came to mind – Melvin Van Peebles, Barry Jenkins and of course D. Scot Miller who wrote an important manifesto on Afrosurrealism is based in San Francisco. He first published that in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.


Just Another Notion (Henderson, 1983)

I read that Henderson has an MFA in visual art but no formal training in filmmaking. Can that be true? To think of him in relation to indie filmmakers out of UCLA would be rich. The way he spliced his films apparently created some cool looking images but also some preservation issues. It’s intriguing how his films present issues of conceptualization – not only “what is this,” but also, how do we see and keep this?

NG: What are your plans/ideas/goals for the Afrosurrealist Film Society and its film series at IU?

TF: I plan to teach my Afrosurrealism course soon and it would be great to have the weekly screenings open to the public. The syllabus would include literature, music and plays – the arts are a necessary framework to the study of media and ideas, obviously.  Afrosurrealism, just like surrealism, is a multidisciplinary endeavor.

Meanwhile, let’s do a modest series. Two screenings with filmmakers present per school year would be fantastic. I’d love to bring in filmmakers who are nearby in the Midwest – Cauleen Smith in Chicago and Robert Banks in Cleveland, OH. We could meet in the BFC/A classroom and screen and talk. Easy peasy. Or we could collaborate with IU Cinema. And I’d love to have Chris Harris and Kevin Everson here. I’d also like to get scholars in the region who are invested in experimental film, like at Ohio State, into the conversation.


Nicolai and Regina Series 01 (Cauleen Smith, 2012)

I’d want to bring together people on campus who are already interested in experimental film but also I want it to be a place where people can discover this type of filmmaking the way I did back in late 1990s in Paris. I enjoyed collaborating with Black Cinema House in the fall and it would be great to do more of that. The BFC/A could also connect with the Wexner in Columbus and SAIC.

But in terms of who would come to these screenings I imagine a core of Black Film Center/Archive and Black Camera staff, students, associated faculty, and graduate students in relevant departments. But there are a lot of people in film studies who are into experimental film including you so let’s build on that. My vision is for a group between 5 and 20 people varying throughout the school term.

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Upcoming Screening:

April 3, 6:30 PM, Indiana University Cinema

“Just Another Notion: Short Films by Mike Henderson”

Director Mike Henderson and archivist Mark Toscano are scheduled to be present.

Thank you to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Film Archive for providing all 16mm prints included in this series.

For more on Mike Henderson and the recent preservation of his 16mm films by archivist Mark Toscano (Academy Film Archives), check out Toscano’s post: “Will She Get Over It” on his blog “Preservation Insanity.”

henderson_collage_front henderson_bw_back

Afrosurrealist Film Society: Conversation with IU Professor Terri Francis, Part 1

“Afrosurrealist films can look as though they’ve been buried in earth and have come up through the ocean. Afrosurrealism might be a sous-realism, a realism beneath.” – Terri Francis


Me Broni Ba/ My White Baby (Akosua Adoma Owusu, 2009)

The Afrosurrealist Film Society screening series launched at Indiana University this past November with the films of Akosua Adoma Owusu. IU film professor Terri Francis, founder of the Afrosurrealist Film Society, invited the Ghanaian-American experimental filmmaker to screen a selection of her short films for a small community of faculty members, graduate students, and undergraduates from the Departments of Communication and Culture, Gender Studies, African American and African Diaspora Studies, and American Studies, among others.

The films screened, including Me Broni Ba/ My White Baby (2009), Drexciya (2010), and Split Ends/ I Feel Wonderful (2012), explore issues of diasporic identity, experiences of location and dislocation, post-colonialist space, and hair politics. As Nzingha Kendall wrote in Black Camera, “Owusu takes full advantage of the filmic form to grapple with the paradox of representing the unrepresentable—blackness, memory, and displacement—in her films. This haunting, in a cinematic sense, can be detected in the way she deconstructs the relationship between sound and image through her creative editing and assemblage technique.”


Split Ends/ I Feel Wonderful (Owusu, 2012)

In the conversation below, BFC/A Graduate Assistant Noelle Griffis discusses the films and the politics of the Afrosurrealist Film Society with Francis. Part 2 of the interview, coming next week, will focus on the “Just Another Notion: Short Films by Mike Henderson,” an upcoming screening at the IU Cinema, co-presented by the Afrosurrealist Film Society with the Underground Film Series and the Black Film Center/Archive, Friday April 3rd at 6:30 PM.

Noelle Griffis (NG): What is the Afrosurrealist Film Society?

 Terri Francis (TF):The Society represents the applied aspect of my research on experimental film. It’s a way to meet new filmmakers, find material to write about, form community and curate. It’s also a dream space — my place of idealism and creativity. A vision of what matters to me and what I would spend all my time doing if I could. Having space where I could think about movies by making them, by scratching it out frame by frame.

From a pragmatic standpoint, I want it to be a flexible platform for the screening and discussion of black experimental film; to provide a home base for filmmakers who want to screen and discuss their work; and to encourage small-scale inexpensive filmmaking.

We do have a mission statement: The Afrosurrealist Film Society is an imaginary collective of artist-intellectuals engaged with film in its varied forms and transnational histories. Animated by Amiri Baraka’s rubric Afro-Surreal Expressionism, we seek, through our art and scholarship an entirely different world, full of the fantastic, that is organically tied to this one. We draw upon an electric mash-up of black folklore, history, consciousness and location in order to engage representations and refractions of reality through film. And we rely on the natural world for surreal venues that sustain contemplation, conversation and creativity. Black Liberation. And Beauty.

Baraka modeled his idea of Afrosurreal Expressionism on poet and storyteller Henry Dumas, of whom he wrote, “Dumas’s power lay in his skill at creating an entirely different world organically connected to this one. The stories are fables; a mythological presence pervades. They are morality tales, magical, resonating dream emotions and images; shifting ambiguous terror, mystery, implied revelation. But they are also stories of real life, now or whenever, constructed in weirdness and poetry in which the contemporaneity of essential themes is clear.”

 NG: Can you talk about the way that you became involved with Afrosurrealist Film. 

 TF: Experimental nonnarrative film is actually how I got interested in films and film study. That background informs how I look at any film. I studied in Paris off and on in the late 1990s and that’s where I discovered film and interesting things you could do with films and inspiring discussions that were happening with them. I saw Chris Harris’s thesis film at the University of Chicago when I got back from France and still/here became the first thing I wrote about beyond my dissertation. I liked that experimental film had a community and a live in-person conversation around it that was accessible to me – the filmmakers are usually there and experimental films look like something I could make and that I want to make. I’m interested in the visceral affective aspects of movies. I see them as sculptural and painterly as something that I can share space with, look at, think about and revisit. The film is actually a space of contemplation.

still/here (Christopher Harris, 2000)


NG: How did the Black Camera “Close Up” on Afrosurrealist film come about? How did this lead to the film series?

The Black Camera issue was a natural scholarly evolution of my fascination with experimental film. I just really needed to see my ideas in print and put Afrosurrealism into the scholarly marketplace. In the 10 years since seeing still/here I developed an approach to writing about film that is grounded in close formal analysis. I started teaching Kevin Everson’s work along with Akosua Adoma Owusu and of course Isaac Julien, Cauleen Smith, Bill Greaves and more—in dialogue with Maya Deren, Stan Brakhage and others.

In the Black Camera issue I drew on Robin Kelly’s work on surrealism where he argues that surrealism was always black. The Afro in Afrosurrealism is a reminder and a restoration. Scott MacDonald has an important essay “Desegregating Film History” about addressing the blind spots in avant-garde film history and how it’s organized around unacknowledged whiteness.

The poet Cathy Park Hong wrote a very strong piece on whiteness in avant-garde poetry. She writes that “American avant-garde poetry has been an overwhelmingly white enterprise, ignoring major swaths of innovators—namely poets from past African American literary movements—whose prodigious writings have vitalized the margins, challenged institutions, and introduced radical languages and forms that avant-gardists have usurped without proper acknowledgment.” She is really critical of what she calls the “snake oil” of being “against expression” and “post-identity.” Her critique points out that “marginalized voices need a concept of voice, expression, identity and specificity to intervene and “alter conditions forged in history.” Asserting marginalized subjectivity and interrogating conventional history is the work of black experimental film. And that pretty much sums up my scholarly imperative.


Handsworth Songs (John Akomfrah, 1987)


NG: In addition to Everson and Owusu, who are some filmmakers that embody the Afrosurrealist spirit to you? Are there connections between these films and filmmakers in terms of aesthetics, politics, or vision?

TF: Neither surrealism nor Afrosurrealism is a style, a set of criteria, an ideology, a genre, or even a coherent exploration. It is not a movement. It is an imaginary, magnetizing loosely related sensibilities, and it certainly is a modernism connected to other forms of modernism such as the Harlem Renaissance, negritude, magical realism, and what Haitian novelist Jacques Stephen Alexis called marvelous realism. All are advance guard approaches to life and society from which intellectuals and artists drew inspiration as they sought to challenge convention. We have to be open to what’s next and the “what else” and not get stuck in a pre-determined diagnostic.

I’m drawn to films like Handsworth Songs (John Akomfrah, 1987) that are grounded in a clearly defined reality but approach it diagonally. Like those early surrealist films, formal strategies in Afrosurrealism include non-narrative structures with the objective of finding unexpected associations. A film like Handsworth experiments with the film essay form to get at invisible structures in society. They can make us see what’s been right in front of our eyes all along, which is really powerful.

Also, Ja’Tovia Gary started making direct animation a couple of years ago – that’s frame-by-frame painting and scratching directly on the film. She is re-working some family home movies in that fashion for a feature film. It’s an incredible dialogue because it’s both enchanting and destructive. Christopher Harris uses an optical printer and hand processing which gives his films a bluesy and tactile look. Reckless Eyeballing (16mm, 2004) moves way beyond the usual criticisms of Birth of a Nation and gets into the structures of looking, desire and beauty that govern it.


Reckless Eyeballing (Christopher Harris, 2004)


I’m currently immersing myself in Richard Fung’s work on videotape for an essay in the “Caribbean Queer Visualities” collection with Small Axe and I’m thinking Afrosurrealism might be an interesting way to stretch his work or the other way around. He is a video artist from Trinidad and based in Toronto who does experimental work on identity. Dirty Laundry (1996) and Dal Puri Diaspora (2012) both examine migration, labor and affective bonds through identity and sexuality. His appropriation film Islands tells the story of his Uncle Clive’s role in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison (1957) with Robert Mitchum and Deborah Kerr. He asks a great question there about whether islands are so obvious that they can never be really seen—and by whom, for whom? Fung uses home movies juxtaposed with fictional performances, historical footage and talking head excerpts to queer and query conventional ways of defining Caribbean, Chinese, or Canadian histories. His film Out of the Blue tells a very familiar story about a young black Canadian man who is falsely accused of a crime because he “fit the description.” It’s a film with a lot of talking – just talking actually but it somehow demands that you look at it for subtleties of framing and performance. Fung might not seem to fit into Afrosurrealism but the way he examines cultural identity and cinematic representation and Caribbeanness, as unsettled and produced speaks to the project.

Afrosurrealism is a no-theory. More of a poem than a syllabus.

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Next week: Part 2 of the conversation will discuss more on the Afrosurrealist Film Society Screenings at IU, Mike Henderson’s visit, Blues Cinema, and More!

See Also:

Fall 2013

Francis, Terri. “Close-Up Gallery: The Afrosurrealist Film Society.” Black Camera 5 no. 1 (Fall 2013): 209-219.

Kendall, Nzingha.  “Close-Up Commentary:  Haunting in Akosua Adoma Owusu’s Short Experimental Films,” Black Camera 5 no. 1, (Fall 2013): 232-236.


In Light Film Festival 2015 Begins Today at IU Cinema

In Light Film Festival will start this Thursday, March 5th, and run through Saturday, March 7th. Two filmmaker roundtables will be held on Friday, March 6th and Saturday, March 7th.  Featured among the films is 2012’s Call Me Kuchu, an essential complement to Roger Ross Williams’ documentary, God Loves Uganda, which screened at IU Cinema in September 2014.

David Kato in CALL ME KUCHU

David Kato in CALL ME KUCHU


“The In Light Film Festival is aimed at promoting and supporting the intersections of human rights and documentary film. Documentary films have long been used as effective teaching aids and as tools for public debate on contemporary socio-political issues. ILFF aims to facilitate dialogue between professionals in the field of human- rights documentaries and the general public.” ~IU Cinema Program


3 PM The Special Needdir. Carlo Zoratti/ 84 min./ 2013

5:30 PM Call Me Kuchudir. Katherine Fairfax Wright & Malika Zouhali-Worrall/ 87 min./ 2012

8:00 PM Sepideh – Reaching for the Starsdir. Berit Madsen/90 min./ 2015


2:30 PM Watchers of the Sky/ dir. Edet Belzberg/ 120 min./ 2014

5:30 PM The Return to Homsdir. Talal Derki/ 94 min./ 2013

8:00 PM Mala Mala/ dir. Dan Sickles and Antonio Santini/ 87 min./ 2014


2:30 PM The Case Against 8/ dir. Ben Cotner and Ryan White/ 109 min./ 2014

5:30 PM Slums: Cities of Tomorrow/ dir. Jean Nicolas Orhon/ 81 min./ 2015

8:00 PM Reporterodir. Bernardo Ruiz/ 71 min./ 2012

The March 6th and 7th roundtables will run from 12:00-2:00 PM, and will expand upon the films. Please encourage your students and classmates to attend the screenings and participate in the roundtables.


All events are free and will be held at the IU Cinema. Space at the roundtables and film screenings are limited; please direct any group ticketing requests to

If you have any questions about the festival please feel free to visit the In Light Film Festival website or contact



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