Former BFC/A Student Assistant Elijah Pouges is now a writer, rapper and music producer based in Brooklyn, New York. He is often thinking about simulacrum and the interactions between sonics and image. You can find his music at brzraps.com.
In this essay Pouges examines the many worlds contained extra-textually Michael Schultz’s films.
The films discussed in this post are scheduled to screen at IU Cinema with director Michael Schultz present. Check out events in the “Young, Gifted and Black” series HERE.
After watching several Schultz films, I began to realize that there’s an extratextual component to be found in many of his works. Perhaps film is a medium of extratextuals via “speaking by showing,” but something about his films strike me as particularly moving as it pertains to what they say beyond the screen. In an another post on this blog, I spoke about how the tryptic of films, when viewed in chronological sequence – Cooley High, Car Wash, and Krush Groove – serve as forms of sonic documentaries. In these films, the prevalent extratextual component is obviously the music. However, in the The Last Dragon, I found that the movie rests entirely upon the extratextual in order to exist.
It’s important to note that the The Last Dragon was initially written for stage, as stated in an article by Ashley Burns and Chloe Schildhause. The theatrics of the film reflect this idea; the decision for Schultz to direct and the outcome of the film’s production both allude to Schultz’s extensive background in theatre. Schultz explained in an email, “I directed the inaugural play for an off-Broadway company called The Negro Ensemble Company (NEC). It puts the company on the theatrical map and, in 1969, I won an OBIE award for best director for the play, The Song of the Lusitanian Bogey.” Schultz’s college years were devoted to learning all aspects of the theatre, including dance, lighting, and acting. The same energy used in this instance transfers to his direction of The Last Dragon. The theatrics read as uncanny, and make me feel like the film is self-aware of its origins, and in this self-awareness, the film can exist comfortably and extratextually.
The lead character, Leroy Green, played by Taimak, illustrates the idea of extratextuality due to Taimak’s real life occupation as a martial artist. The film’s cast is a bricolage of experience and backgrounds; the spaces occupied by the actors in reality are also occupied by the roles they play. Taimak had been doing martial arts for years but had never acted. Laura Charles, played by singer and actress Vanity had been doing film for about 5 years. Schultz’s direction of non-actors cements The Last Dragon’s dependency on extratextuality, the world beyond the film.
The Last Dragon is and isn’t a martial arts film. By positioning itself as a martial arts film, The Last Dragon enters, if even only in a cursory way, into part of a larger genre-oriented canon in which citing external text is a part of creating a new one. Within the film, clips of Bruce Lee films are interspersed in a music video like sequence. The most immediate connection the viewer could make is an allusion being made to Leroy’s admiration of Lee as a martial artist, however, these clips also highlight the nature of the actor-martial artist position occupied by both Taimak and Lee. The use of Lee’s image makes sense not only as a recognizable pop icon to viewers, but to reinforce the film’s independence on external text.
The Last Dragon is a peculiar film for a number of reasons – cultural bricolage, uncanny sensibilities, martial arts in the middle of New York – but the nature of its existence strikes me as its most fascinating attribute. Schultz’s background in theatre is integral for how the film is constructed; it creates and exhibits an awareness of self and creator. The actor’s off-screen lives reflect that of their roles, and films cited serve not only as inspiration within the fictionalized universe, but also as a reassertion of the film’s extratextual qualities from preexisting works in the martial arts genre.
This interactive experience includes a screening of HERITAGE OF THE NEGRO 30 min. (1965), narrated by Ossie Davis and FACING THE FAÇADE 55 min. (1994), directed by IU Alumnus Jerald Harkness. Mr. Harkness and Tim Mayer, the designer of many of the FOCUS program posters will be present for discussion. This project is supported by Indiana Humanities. For more information about these specific films or questions about accessing them please contact the Indiana University Libraries’ Moving Image Archive.
This striking poster for a film series in IU’s Fine Arts Auditorium stood out among materials on display for the “Voices of 68’” exhibit at University Archives in the spring 2018 semester. Many important questions surround this poster: Who designed it? Why do the titles of these films seem familiar? Whose face is this? What was Focus: Black America?
The film series advertised on the poster turned out to be part of a yearlong event held on Indiana University’s campus throughout 1968. Many of these films are titles held by the Moving Image Archive. The poster was designed by Tim Mayer, then a design student at IUB and today a retired member of the Bloomington City Council.
FOCUS: Black America originally took place in 1968 and organizers brought entertainers, academics, artists, politicians, and activists to Indiana University to lecture, participate in panels, showcase artworks, and give performances. Professor Gus Liebenow, founding chair of the African Studies Program, initiated the program with the help of faculty and students in African Studies and across the Indiana University campus. An entire box of Dr. Liebenow’s papers, held in the Indiana University Archives, is specifically dedicated to the yearlong event’s formation. The documents supply evidence of an attempt on IU’s campus to broadcast the history and experiences of Africans and African Americans to the campus.
1968 was a transformative year in the United States, particularly on college campuses. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated that April, just as IU students were finishing the 67’-68’ semester. At San Francisco State in the fall of 1968, the Black Student Union and a coalition of student groups known as the Third World Liberation Front led a five month strike demanding equal access to public education, more senior faculty of color, and a curriculum the embraced the histories of all Americans. Among the gains was the establishment of the SFS’s College of Ethnic Studies which served as a model for universities across the the country. Students and other activists were protesting the war in Vietnam. Students on IU’s campus held a sit-in at the Little 500 that year to protest a lack of black representation on campus and address discriminatory clauses in Greek organization charters. The Black Market on Kirkwood Avenue would be firebombed by Klan members later that December and just down the road from Bloomington, Carol Jenkins, a young black woman from Rushville, Indiana, was brutally murdered by two white men in Martinsville. By the early 1970s, the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center and the academic department that would becomes the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies were founded in the wake of student activism.
Where would FOCUS turn its focus?
Liebenow, his colleagues, and students across campus, sought resources at IU to respond to racial injustice and both overt and institutionalized white supremacy in Indiana with lectures, seminars, musical and theater performances, and a variety of motion picture screenings. Some of the films, which were presented at events on campus, were specifically educational and responsive to social problems related to prejudice and discrimination, while other screenings featured Hollywood narratives that dealt thematically with race and racial identity. Some of the educational and documentary programs were produced and broadcast by CBS and WNET television networks and became part of Indiana University’s Audio/Visual catalogue. The Moving Image Archive has recently digitized educational and documentary films that were, according to information available in Liebenow’s papers, screened at these various FOCUS events.
One question about these films and others shown at various FOCUS events is whether they were truly responsive to the campus climate and the needs of black students on IU’s campus. Included in Liebenow’s papers is an editorial written in the Indiana Daily Student, titled “Focus Picture is Out of Focus,” which casts doubt on the extent of this responsiveness. The writer argues that the program is out of touch with the “black racial situation in this country” and calls for more inclusion of black students, whose voices were not being heard in the development of the program.
Who was FOCUS ’68 for and does it have parallel audiences today? What does FOCUS ’68 mean today? Why this program and why now? What can we learn about the curatorial logic of 1968 through this exhibition? Have we made the right choices for (RE)Focus 2018? How might today’s student leaders respond to ’68 and what are their strategies for engaging politics, literature, art, scholarship, and music today in Black America, on campus?
Guest Post by Essence London, Indiana Review Editor-in-Chief.
September 20, 2018 the BFC/A held a Mystery Screening in partnership with #DirectedbyWomen and IU Libraries Moving Image Archive. The content of the screening was not announced beforehand. In the essay below guest contributor Essence London reflects on the event and her complex relationship to the histories of Black Bloomington.
The Mystery Guest was Crystal Z. Campbell, a US artist and writer of African-American, Filipino and Chinese descents hailing from Oklahoma. Campbell’s work in analog film, video, sound, performance, sculpture, drawing, painting, photography, and community projects are excavations of unsettled historical narratives. Campbell uses art as a tool for agency, social transformation, and time-travel. IULMIA screened her 2017 film Go-Rilla Means War. The film is a relic of gentrification, and highlights the complex intersections of development, cultural preservation, and erasure in the form of an intricately woven parable and celluloid frames weathered by decades of urban neglect.
September 20, 2018, I entered a screening room on the ground floor of Indiana University’s library, a couple minutes late because that’s somehow become a habit. I stepped in and made eye contact with a calm woman wearing glasses and big hair. To show that I, both a stranger and a writer among film buffs, come in peace, I waved. I’m new here but I’m nice. I found a seat upfront, to the far left because my hair is also kinda big, and settled in, really curious due to the Mystery Screening frame for the event. I wondered what kind of film we’d be watching, how long it was; I wondered if the visiting filmmaker was already in the room. From the information included on the marketing materials—the Black Film Center/Archive as a host and the film as part of the #DirectedbyWomen series—I could infer that the filmmaker identifies as a Black woman. Even with no knowledge of her name or her image, no context on the film at all, there was a certain intrigue and attention that I noticed in my body as Go-Rilla Means War came onto the screen.
The film opens with strong, deep piano chords and the title set in white font over a background that shifts on beat between various shades of red. Within the first minute, I was struck by the seeming incongruence between the voiceover and the images on screen. I saw two boys searching for guidance from men while I heard a woman recount details of the 79 AD eruption of Mount Vesuvius and a long history Nydia figures. As the film progresses, more political threads are woven into the audio. There are clips of a Tawana Brawley press conference, a description of gentrified Bed-Stuy. We hear about the life of judge, community activist, martial artist, and filmmaker John L. Phillips and the last years of the Slave Theatre. Meanwhile, the visuals get increasingly stranger: the two boys poison a man and leave his body at a dining table staring at a mural on the wall, a cop pushes over what viewers believe is a woman, a man in a park simply looks in one direction then the next, a few martial arts segments climax inside a largely empty building.
By the close of the film, the voiceover makes the connection between audio and visual explicit. She has told us the story of how she found the soundless film we’re watching as well as provided the historical, political, and artistic context. The Nydia she “may or may not have known,” is the narrative hinge, the woman who led her into the Slave Theatre, setting up the moment that a neglected film reel is kicked in the dark, rediscovered. Before this reveal, the features that merged the voiceover with the visual for me are the discoloration and the abstract scratches and patches moving atop the visual. I learned during the Q&A following the film that the blues and yellows, the overlaid textures weren’t edited in—that this film isn’t a new thing trying to look old. The damage is real, a result of years of chemical degradation and a result of the artist pulling frames apart to decipher what was on them. I also learned that the calm voice over the visuals belongs to the filmmaker Crystal Z Campbell, that the filmmaker was the calm woman I waved at when I first walked through the door.
Further into the discussion, Campbell pondered gentrification with us. Not only the effect of screening the film in various ironic settings like Woolworth’s Lunch Counter and galleries in gentrified neighborhoods, but also the fact that she’s an Oklahoman telling a Bed-Stuy story. She lived in Brooklyn for about a year and, while there, a friend told her she had to see the Slave Theatre. Clear, Go-Rilla Means War is an experimental documentary. Though a geographic outsider, Campbell nurtured 20,000 frames and has plans to continue this project, to revise it, and to play a part in the evolution and the survival of the Slave Theatre in human memory and record.
I’m in Bloomington for what may or may not be a final year. Go-Rilla Means War made me want to learn more about the city where I currently reside and the Black people who have contributed to it. I visited the Monroe County History Center after hearing about their exhibit Breaking the Color Barrier: Bloomington’s Firsts. Before my son and I passed the pay desk even, the hostess apologetically explained that they’d hoped to have a more elaborate display and that they plan on integrating more information like it into the permanent exhibits. I expected to see first Black principals, athletes, and government officials. This is what they had with a few uniforms and props to illustrate. I also expected to see details about the first Kappa Alpha Psi chapter, the first business opened by a Black person in the area, the first community center in a Black neighborhood, etc. That is what they did not have. So I went to the Banneker the following week.
Not long after moving here in 2016, I found information online about the Banneker, a community center that was a school only for Black students during segregation. I’d only visited once before because it’s out of the way from my apartment. This time around, I spoke with the director, a young white man who’s been there three years and Pauline Bridgwaters whose grandmother was one of the Banneker’s first students. They told me it’s been a struggle to serve the children and families the building has historically served due to surrounding gentrification. Their lack of parking, for example, didn’t pose a problem until Black families were pushed into neighborhoods out of walking distance. Luckily though, the Banneker has its own library and is preserving its own story. While there, I encountered a visual timeline mounted to the walls, interviews of locals associated with the Banneker collected by high school students, framed photos over a glass display case containing relics like workbooks and the loveliest pair of pink earrings. And there’s been no effort to demolish the center, though it needs some of the same maintenance and architectural attention that Boys and Girls Clubs in the city have received. I suspect that the same subtle guilt for neglecting Black communities that I noticed at the History Center may be part of the reason why, but that’s probably not it. As I left the Banneker, the director and a group of volunteers were discussing plans for a Halloween party—pumpkins and table activities and candy bags for kids who show without one. The people connected to the center are working hard to keep it fun and relevant to the families it does serve.
The Slave Theatre wasn’t so fortunate to outlive gentrification or efforts to destroy it. In 2017, it was sold for $18.5 million and torn down. It makes all the sense in the world for Campbell’s Go-Rilla Means War to end with Tawana Brawley saying, “I simply want justice then I want to be left alone.” When I heard that statement, I said, “Okay?” in my Black Women In Agreeance voice. This approach to our communities may be all we have left in order to heal and survive and take them back. I’ll remember Brawley’s words whenever I return home to Little Rock. I’ve got idealistic aspirations to help rebuild the clubs, the beauty shops and restaurants, the theatre that my city destroyed in the 1960s and 70s. Thank you Crystal Z Campbell for merging image, sound, color, time, and place in Go-Rilla Means War, for getting me to think about revitalization with a complex, non-linear frame. The work is only beginning. The work never ends.
On Thursday, June 22, the Black Film Center/Archive presents a free screening of The House on Coco Road. The screening will be held at 7pm at the IU Libraries Screening Room in Wells Library. Reservations are required and can be made online at http://iub.libcal.com/event/3363205.
Directed by Damani Baker, The House on Coco Road is a compelling story about Baker’s mother, Fannie Haughton, an arising social activist in the 1960s. The film spans Baker’s family history, his upbringing in the San Francisco Bay Area with personal connections to Angela Davis and her sister Fania Davis, to spending some of his childhood on the Caribbean island of Grenada. Grenada initially appeared to be a paradise, marking a turning point for Haughton after witnessing the harsh prejudices that African Americans often endured in her native Oakland hometown, but Grenada’s peaceful environment was short-lived. The government experienced political upheaval, especially regarding the prime minister’s role as a leader, as well as the position of the military. As Grenada’s leadership changed, the Reagan administration grew concerned with Grenada’s military and political alliances, and as a result, invaded Grenada, having a profound effect on this island nation.
Baker’s film features interviews with his mother, as well as interviews with Angela Davis and Fania Davis. Baker also incorporates primary sources such as recorded tapes that he discovered, newspaper sources, and strong archival footage. The House on Coco Road premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival in 2016, and was announced in May 2017 as the 16th acquisition of ARRAY, a film distribution company founded by Ava DuVernay.
Damani Baker offers this synopsis of The House on Coco Road on the film’s website:
In 1979 the Grenadian people carry out the first successful revolution in the English speaking Caribbean. Maurice Bishop becomes Prime Minister. The Revolution attracts workers from around the world including my mother, Fannie Haughton.
In 1982 Angela Davis, her family, and my mother visit Grenada to witness this miraculous Peoples’ Revolution. In 1983 my mother is offered a position in the Ministry of Education and we leave our home in Oakland and move to Grenada. I’d never seen her happier.
Grenada was briefly our home. In 1983 the United States led a military invasion following the assassination of the young popular Prime Minister, Maurice Bishop. We hid under the bed for three days as bombs shook our new paradise, and changed its course forever. Sixteen years later, in 1999, I returned to Grenada with my mother, and began shooting a documentary film, searching for her story, one that felt not just untold, but unfinished.
In 2014, I discovered a box of family super 8 footage of my great grandmother in rural Louisiana on the land our family sharecropped and my grandmother’s migration west. I started to unravel my mother’s path to activism. I started to understand why my mother, and a group of tireless women, had put their lives on the line, daring to build a better world. You may not know their names, but they have changed the course of history.
In the early 90’s, Mahen Bonetti, the Sierra Leone-born founder and executive director of the New York-based African Film Festival Inc., created both the African Film Festival and its traveling series counterpart. For the last two decades, the Festival has enjoyed immense success and garnered respect from the world of film festivals and and their audiences for its carefully curated selection of films created by filmmakers from every corner of the African diaspora. A few days ago, Yalie Kamara of the Black Film Center/Archive had the opportunity to speak with Ms. Bonetti about the 23rd and 20th respective anniversaries of the African Film Festival and African Film Festival traveling series (the latter makes a stop at Indiana University Cinema and the BFC/A this week), her thoughts on African Cinema, her vision, and what she believes the future holds for African cinema and its international audience.
Yalie Kamara: What makes you the most excited about arriving at the 20th year of the traveling series?
Mahen Bonetti: I would say the fact that the production has increased you know; we will never run out of stories. And that there is a growing audience and also the fact the people on the continent are getting to see these images, they partake in the conversation so that makes me feel good about our mission and goals…that if we do not complete anything else, that this is taking place. And this is where tech is so much more resourceful and practical for people from the global south. We think about utilizing this technology. I get off subway here and no one is thinking about how to get to Point A to Point B, someone has to look up…well anyways that’s another story, let me not digress. [laughs]
Y: In keeping with that theme, in looking at the last twenty years of these films, what has been the most surprising thing about the way that African Cinema has changed?
M: I think the experimental genre and the fact that you have…for example in this year’s festival, we had a combination of shorts, feature films and the different genres documentary, fiction and the long and short format and the experimental format. And the thing is…in total we had 54 films and half of those were made by women. I mean, you go to Cannes, and there may be two women in the whole program, and this is what we overlook, sometimes, you know. They talk about whenever we speak about Africa and even we as African people have, you know, belief in this hype! When out of 54 half are made by women, that’s huge!
Additionally, these films are no longer just representing a narrative coming out of a colonial Francophone country or colonial Anglophone [country], there’s a mashup. You even have the Portuguese-speaking African kids. And there’s this caravan that is traveling around the continent, I’m almost envious. Like I hope I find someone quickly to take care of this [festival] so I want to join these young people, artists traveling from country to country. I hear it all the time, like “Where are you? We don’t see you anymore!” And the thing is, Yalie, I cannot also accept invitations because I know about our time, and when the moment comes for our major festival and our major flagship program, our time is so limited. I want to maintain a quality, so my first obligation is to filmmakers, as many as I can bring. And then if I have that extra infusion of cash, then I’m going to write a producer or programmer.
Outside of their country, the French have the largest number of speakers on the continent of Africa and they are supporting a lot of these initiatives, even in Francophone countries. And now the Germans are also doing it. So now you have these manifestations have that support of governmental institutions, European Union. I don’t have that. When they say “where are you?” I feel like sometimes “just accept it,” but I think that’s wrong and I know I have been invited with the expectation that I reciprocate, you know. So that being said, this is what makes me excited. That the conversation is not only taking place in this isolated space, you know. There’s an incubator that exists on the continent and in the diaspora. And there’s this…coming back to the technology to social media to, you know, blogs, these kids are communicating amongst themselves. They’re the adults in the room. Half the time, they know more about what is going on in the country than the president, who is busy stealing. That’s all they know how they do, you know? Anyways. I hope I answered your questions. [laughs]
Y: You definitely did. What have been some of your favorite moments from the traveling series or from the African Film Festival. Feel free to answer whichever you want. I just want to capture the excitement.
M: I think the excitement is that we are considered a niche festival, but that the fact that we’ve built under this label of niche, there’s been a trust, a loyalty that over the years you know and people know where to come. So in a way, it galvanizes our community. That makes me excited. And it’s not a matter of scale because that community is international and it’s also regional, it’s also local, it’s also grassroots. But there is a community of like-minded people. And it’s huge. It’s the subculture where everyone goes to poach and not only for film. You know I was reading an article in the New Yorker about Hood By Air, I don’t know if you know this label. They really — how do you say — brought high-end stree twear to the mainstream.
Hood By Air was founded by a Trinidadian kid who brought on an Afro-Dominican kid. I mean they’re the most successful beyond…what would you call it…..I’m sorry, my daughter tells me all these names…well anyways, what he said was “I noticed everyone was poaching our ideas but we don’t get the big investor and what they do is…” the way that he described it was excellent. He said “It’s like, I like how you look, but I don’t know how to approach you, so I’m going to put a bit of me in you, so I can control it.” Do you understand what I’m saying? So he says “I make tee shirts that are really, really, just in your face and then I see then the guy at one of those big couture labels doing it.” Next time they turn around, their tee shirts have been modified!
And it’s exactly that… so I feel that the fact that we have this audience…I think this has been is what keeps us relevant and this is, in a way, why the AFF is the envy of a lot of these major institutions: we are not a dying audience. You should see all these young kids coming around. And I see my grey hair and I’m like “Oh my God, I’m the Pied Piper!” And it’s just fantastic and that is also what keeps me going…
So these communities, they’re mushrooming they’re huge, you know? Like in Toronto, the city-to-city spotlight is Lagos this year. Who would imagine? A few years go, everyone was snubbing their nose.
But I always knew that Nollywood would evolve. You will always have that telling of the traditional Nollywood story that appeals to a lot of people, but each generation is going to come around and raise the bar even higher…production, structure, storytelling, you know? And an alternative Nollywood will have different genres within Nollywood, so Toronto International Film Festival, their city-to-city-spotlight this year is Lagos. We’re generating new audiences all the time and then there’s the material. And for me, when the story resonates, production quality is secondary, because the story can hook anyone. Whether they’re in China, whether in Burma, whether in Burundi, the story is universal. As a poet you understand. So you connect to a character. You know that sound, you know that intonation. You can almost smell the space.
Y: When you’re looking for or thinking of different film submissions that you encounter, in addition to narrative heft, what are some of the other qualities that make a good fit for the African Film Festival?
M: For me. I mean first of all, I’m not a filmmaker. I’m not an academic. I was just desperate in the late 80’s to do something. [laughs] I was like “I want to hear my voice in this. Everyone is talking like maybe these are realities, but there’s another perspective here you know? Come on! Our continent is not sinking. We’re not all infected with AIDS. We’re not all swinging from trees! What’s wrong with these people?” So for me first of all, each year, I look at a theme. It could be something historic, contemporary, current, because when you’re building a program, you’re also telling a story. So the entire program is like a circle. Each film connects to the next film. It’s like a continuation of the story. Or going back to revisit the story or moving forward, or being in the present time of the story. Does that make sense? So if one person comes and there’s one film they get, they look at the theme, International Decade of People of African Descent, Modern Days, Ancient Nights: 50 Years of African Filmmaking, Digital Africa. If there’s one film they see, it ties into that theme. Because you are also telling a story, because you are making it structurally like the rhythm. We are all in that rhythm, you know?
Y: After seeing many films over the years, are there still specific representations of Africa/ African countries or themes that are yet to be addressed that you’re hoping to see emerge in the future of filmmaking?
M: One thing that I like right now is the documentary genre. I think it’s the most powerful right now. It’s very exciting and it’s a lot of women who are using this format. But they really take no prisoners on top of it. And they’re telling the story like no one else. Like Sembène would be proud, wherever he is in that other world, you know? And then there’s docudrama genre, also, so that’s one exciting thing. I mean we’re slowly coaxing filmmaking at our own pace. And I know that, I’m just so excited, because I’m learning also! I’m learning about myself. That’s why I even started it. I wanted to know myself. I wanted to love myself, meaning I wanted to love Blackness. I wanted to love Black people. Because no matter what we think, colonialism and slavery have done such a job on our psyche, you know what I mean? Like who validates who? I wanted to be the one to validate myself. And not using someone else’s cultural references or standards to decide how beautiful I was, how smart I was, how well I spoke something, you know what I mean? So for me, it was all about reclaiming, reappropriation.
In Sierra Leone, generally your traditional education guides you, even if you don’t have the formal education, but during the civil war, all that was shattered. All the infrastructures were broken…so this is what’s exciting in Africa right now: these kids are re-inventing what it is to be Black, to be African, and to live on the continent. They’re using their imagination and they’re kind of wild! They are like the Black Lives Matter kids. And that actually started on the continent. Even though we don’t label things, a lot of things started on the continent. Feminism started on the continent. Like the mother selling oranges and peanuts. Her bank is the knot in her lapa [wrap around skirt] and then she educated five children. That’s feminism. We don’t label things, you know what I mean? Like the Black Lives Matter. That movement started and then it comes back somehow and is labeled Négritude, even when that starts in the diaspora, its intersection of Black people of African descent meeting. That’s how these labels are created. That is why I wanted to have that conversation. We welcome everyone because that is also Africa’s nature. We are a people of humanity. Even when we are killing each other. You know we’ll go and cry and put kola nut offering for the one we killed.
I told someone the other day that we [Africans] are beautiful even when we…I told someone a story about the last day of one of my trips to Sierra Leone. One of the people with me had gotten their sneakers stolen. And after the fact even the thief was coming to us asking if we’d found the sneakers and acting like he was helping to look for the sneakers, even though he knew he took them! We have a sense of community and there’s a lot of drama! It’s poetry in motion.
I feel we’re coaxing the stories, we’re doing it at our own pace. There’s so much yet to be told and I’m waiting for the story where we can openly talk about…I mean even though we do, and I think your generation is doing that, it’s like who created these languages and barriers within Anglophone, Francophone, Lusophone? Who decided? Because this ties to tribalism.
I was thinking of the young kids who we did this program we did with young people in Sierra Leone where you bring a Temne and Mende together and talk about their differences. You know how did that happen?
Wars always happen. But then we live together.
I’m doing this work to be self-critical and to also celebrate our achievements.
At times, I get confronted by our own people like “Why are you doing that? Why are you airing our dirty laundry?” and my response is, “Airing dirty laundry to who? Check yourself!” It’s like saying “This person is beautiful because they have this color hair or this color skin,” You need to check yourself!
Y: Beyond bringing the festival to college spaces and giving libraries an opportunity to acquire films that elicit more robust representations of Africa, what are the other benefits of having a traveling series?
M: Oh the filmmaker! Absolutely! You’re introducing someone’s work. Look at over the years, Jean-Marie Teno, even Tunde Kelani, coming to your school or Sissako Abderrahmane coming to these universities or cultural centers that means you have to buy a copy of their work, and then they get invited to be artist-in-residence and do workshops, so definitely you’re also observing and a part of the trajectory of the artist. You grow with them. You’re part of the conversation of their story.
It’s twofold—you have audience development and make it more accessible for a wider audience. We do outdoor screenings….I’ve been told films that we show shouldn’t be older than two years, but that’s so nonsensical that it’s not even funny. How do you weave the story if it can’t be more than two years old? There are some films that were done in early African cinema that are not even dated and they’re still some of the best films you’ve ever seen in your life, and it’s still part of the story; it’s contemporary life or futuristic life or whatever.
And it’s not only the audience development and making it accessible, but also the filmmakers, the artists who are like modern day griots who are giving us this face and voice. I want to give them that pedestal because they are doing a great, great, great service for us under very, very challenging conditions half the time.
Y: Do you have a message that you’d like to leave us with?
M: I’m really proud of our young, our millennials. The African diaspora millennials, who are soaking in these stories, who are engaging in conversation and who are taking action, because it’s about activism. Every change happens usually through the young. Through activism. They’re the ones that are the agents for change, i.e. what we’re seeing right now, what’s happening here. People do not realize that it’s not just Black Lives Matter here, it’s happening all throughout the world. And even on the other extreme side these who are voting for Donald Trump, you have to also big enough to see and put yourself in someone else’s shoes, whether you agree with them or not. And that is part of your growth and your development. Part of humanity.
I think it feels like you’re on shaky ground, but at the same time, it’s the end of the era that cannot exist anymore. Something new has to happen. It’s like the force of nature. People don’t realize planting your feet on the living earth that is leaning too much on one side. It’s like equilibrium. We’re on shaky ground because the equilibrium is off. The plates of the world are off. And that is what is creating all of this pandemonium. And a lot of mad people. It affects people. It really does. I’m seeing that more and more in New York.
I feel as scary as it is, something new has to come out. It’s the browning of the world. You know, what constitutes White and Black, we’re becoming extinct, let’s face it. Latinos are going to be American, and Arabs are going to be European, okay? Look at the Great British Bakeoff. Did you see that?! The British tradition, the great British bake sale. She had on a scarf. You’ve heard her first. She had this big Cockney accent! She had 300,000 Twitter followers and then you see the girl! She’s got on a scarf, she’s a Muslim kid! And she baked the hell out of the English! She got number one!
The 20th African Film Festival Traveling Series is sponsored by IU Libraries Media Services, Black Film Center/Archive, the African Studies program, The Media School’s cinema and media arts program, the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies, the Department of History, the Department of Comparative Literature, and the IU Cinema. Special thanks are due to Monique Threatt of the IUB Libraries Media Services and Alimah Boyd of the African Film Festival, Inc.
The Black Film Center/Archive is pleased to announce its Fall semester programming for the 2016-2017 academic year. Below you will find information about both upcoming film screenings as well as artist and scholar visits. We’d like to thank the IU Cinema, The Media School, and our many other campus partners for their support in the planning of these events. For more on event times and locations, please visit the BFC/A’s “Events” page. And for additional information or any questions regarding these events, please contact the Black Film Center/Archive by phone at (812) 855-6041 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
20th African Film Festival Traveling Series, September 12 – September 15, 2016
Curated by New York’s African Film Festival, this 20th edition of the AFF traveling series celebrates the United Nations’ International Decade for People of African Descent. Festival director Mahen Bonetti writes that the eight films in the series represent “a unique opportunity to examine the ways in which African men and women have broken through borders with films and narratives that form part of the global imagination. These films reflect a new era of filmmaking, led by the emerging generation of directors whose work embodies a new direction in African cinema.”
The 20th African Film Festival Traveling Series is sponsored by IU Libraries Media Services, Black Film Center/Archive, the African Studies program, The Media School’s cinema and media arts program, the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies, the Department of History, the Department of Comparative Literature, and the IU Cinema. Special thanks are due to Monique Threatt of the IUB Libraries Media Services and Alimah Boyd of the African Film Festival, Inc.
Monday, September 12, 7:00 pm at the IU Cinema
Head Gone (2014) Directed by Dare Fasasi, Nigeria/Sweden, 111 min. In English & Pidgin with English subtitles.
Tuesday, September 13, 6:00 pm at the BFC/A’s Phyllis Klotman Room (Wells 044B)
Red Leaves (2014) Directed by Bazi Gete, Israel, 80 min. In Hebrew and Amharic with English subtitles.
Wednesday, September 14, 6:00 pm at the BFC/A’s Phyllis Klotman Room (Wells 044B)
*6:00 pm Afripedia: Ghana (2014), Directed by Teddy Goitom, Benjamin Taft and Senay Berhe, Ghana/Kenya/Sweden, 28 min. In English.
*6:30 pm Afripedia: Kenya (2014), Directed by Teddy Goitom, Benjamin Taft and Senay Berhe, Ghana/Kenya/Sweden, 28 min. In English.
7:00 pm The Longest Kiss (2013) Directed by Alexandra Sicotte-Lévesque, Sudan, 72 min. In English and Arabic with English subtitles.
Thursday, September 15, 6:30 pm at the BFC/A’s Phyllis Klotman Room (Wells 044B)
4:00 pm Cholo (2014) Directed by Muzna Almusafer, Oman, 21 min. In Swahili with English subtitles.
4:30 pm Panic Button (2014) Directed by Libby Dougherty, South Africa, 25 min. In English.
5:00 pm The Prophecy (2015) Directed by Marcia Juzga, Senegal, 20 min. In French & Wolof with English subtitles.
Monday, October 3, 2016 6:00 p.m.
A Talk with Dr. Gerald Butters
Gerald Butters, PhD: Dr. Gerald Butters is a professor of history at Aurora University. His areas of specialization are film history, U.S. social and cultural history, and gender and race studies. Additionally, Dr. Butters is a co-editor of the forthcoming Beyond Blaxploitation, which is the first book-length anthology of scholarly work on blaxploitation film, which “sustains the momentum that Blaxploitation scholarship has recently gained, giving the films an even more prominent place in cinema history.” One of the chapters of the book was written by Indiana University’s very own, Dr. Vivian Halloran, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature.
VERSAILLES ’73: AFRICAN AMERICAN BEAUTY AND DESIGN IN THE WORLD’S EYE, with Deborah Riley Draper, October 10-11
Themester, Fall 2016: “Beauty”
Writer/historian Tanisha C. Ford and filmmaker Deborah Riley Draper will revisit a watershed moment in fashion history, 1973’s Grand Divertissement à Versailles, to open a broader exploration of beauty culture as a force in the cultural and political expression of black women. The Versailles show, a meeting of French and American designers, challenged the race-based beauty ideals of the Parisian fashion establishment with the introduction of African American models and design to the world stage. Public events will include a Jorgensen guest filmmaker lecture by Draper and a screening of Draper’s award-winning documentary, Versailles’73: American Fashion Revolution, which explores the inextricable links between race, beauty, fashion, politics, and advocacy.
October 10, 2016, 3:00 p.m. at the IU Cinema
Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Lecture with Deborah Riley Draper
October 10, 2016, 7:00 p.m. at the IU Cinema
Versailles ‘73: American Runway Revolution (2012) 91 minutes, Directed by Deborah Riley Draper
Director Deborah Riley Draper is scheduled to be present at the screening for a conversation to follow the film.
In addition to these Themester programs, Deborah Riley Draper will present a second program at the IU Cinema:
October 11, 2016, 7:00 p.m. at the IU Cinema
Olympic Pride, American Prejudice (2016) 90 min. Directed by Deborah Riley Draper
These events are sponsored by the Black Film Center/Archive with Themester at the College of Arts and Sciences, the Elizabeth Sage Historic Costume Collection, the Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American Institutions, the National Sports Journalism Center, the Center for Documentary Research and Practice, The Media School’s cinema and media arts program, the Department of History, and the IU Cinema. Special thanks to Emma Young.
About Deborah Riley Draper: Named one of Variety’s “10 Documakers to Watch” in 2016, the veteran advertising executive Deborah Riley Draper has launched her career as a documentary filmmaker with two features. From the impact of the first Black models in the world of high fashion to the early African American Olympians who inspired on the field and beyond, Draper’s work presents the perspectives of Black American cultural icons that have contributed to shaping American history, often in ways that are not yet fully recognized.
#BlackPanthersMatter, October 17 and 22, 2016
Founded 50 years ago on October 15, 1966, the Black Panther Party for Self Defense created the foundational iconography of Black radicalism in the United States. Their revolutionary aesthetics and self-controlled image established them in the nation’s eye: black berets, Afros, leather jackets and militarized organization. #BlackPanthersMatter brings together four films that highlight the depth behind the visuals, both by relating the Black Panthers outward to contemporary Black lives and by turning inwards to the emotional experiences of the movement’s founders.
October 17, 2016, 7:00 p.m.
Off The Pig (1968) 14 minutes Produced by Newsreel Films
A Huey P. Newton Story (2001) 86 minutes Directed by Spike Lee
October 22, 2016, 6:30 p.m.
May Day (1969) 13 minutes Produced by Newsreel Films
The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975 (2011) 100 minutes Directed by Göran Olsson
#BlackPanthersMatter is sponsored by: the Black Film Center/Archive, the Cinema and Media Studies unit at The Media School, and the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies.
Julie Dash: Daughters of the Dust 25th Anniversary (December 8-9, 2016)
Julie Dash’s rich filmography explores the spectrum of Black women’s experience across wide swaths of geography and time. 2016 marks the 25th anniversary of her groundbreaking film Daughters of the Dust, and the Black Film Center/Archive is excited to sponsor a screening of the newly released digital restoration print, along with a selection of short films from her time as part of the UCLA-based Black cinema revolution of the late 1960s to late 1980s, known today as the L.A. Rebellion.
December 8, 2016, 7:00 p.m.at IU Cinema
L.A. Rebellion Shorts: Four Women (1975), Diary of an African Nun (1977), and Illusions (1982) Directed by Julie Dash
December 9, 2016, at IU Cinema
3:00 p.m. Jorgensen Guest Filmmaker Lecture with Julie Dash
6:30 p.m. Daughters of the Dust (1991) 112 minutes Directed by Julie Dash
Julie Dash Daughters of the Dust 25th Anniversary is sponsored by: the Black Film Center/Archive, The Media School’s cinema and media arts program, the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies, and the IU Cinema.
In Reflections Unheard, Nnaji chronicles the experiences of some of the 60’s and 70’s most prolific Black female activists during moments of political triumph as well as in the face of gender, racial, and class inequality. Through a series of interviews and stunning archival footage, Nnaji calls attention to the oft-overlooked obstacles these women endure while organizing for the social and political betterment of women in both national and international contexts.
Yalie Kamara, an MFA student in IU’s Creative Writing Program and a BFC/A archives assistant, spoke with Nevline Nnaji in advance of tomorrow’s event:
Yalie Kamara: From start to finish, how long did it take you to complete this project?
Nevline Nnaji: Two and a half years.
YK: Can you remember the exact moment when it became clear to you that you had to pursue this documentary project?
NN: Around the time that I started film school, I’d began reading Black women’s literature. I was inspired by Elaine Brown’sA Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story. It was the first time that I was made aware of the mistreatment of women in the Black Power movement. Also I had a conversation with a friend one day and she was like “you know, you could do a documentary,” and I was like “I think I can!” and once I joined the film program, that’s when I started producing it.
YK: How did you choose the archival footage/public domain footage/Creative Commons footage? What was the richest source of archival footage or was there a tapestry of different archival sources that supported the construction of this film? What were some of the workarounds that you employed in order to successfully complete this documentary?
NN: I had difficulty accessing archival footage because of a lot of the copyrights that were placed on the films. So even some older footage, that was usually captured by white photographers and filmmakers back in and the 60s and 70s and was either held in archives by those same people in whatever company they had or placed in these larger archives like Getty or even something that’s public like WGBH television. I remember the lowest that I got in that regard was like $50 per second and that was the student rate! But usually it runs from that to about $250 per second. And so that was my budget. I think [those rates] are mostly made for filmmakers who have an extremely large budget for these things and are maybe a bit more well off. And that wasn’t really the place that I was coming from. This was my first film. So this experience made me dig deeper into what was available at Library of Congress. I got a lot of footage that’s not really been seen because of how deeply you have to dig and do research in order to get this footage.
YK: Why was it important for you to focus on prolific Black female activists of 1960s and 70s without integrating the voices of contemporary, younger activists? I found this to be particularly powerful and wanted to know a bit more from your own perspective about why this was important to you.
NN: I wanted to make sure to have this documentary focus on the women who contributed to the Civil Rights era. In creating documentaries, when you have a focus, you can get a lot of out of the story, instead of just having a bunch of stuff and getting messy. It just needed to be that.
The only perspective that was not from an activist of the Civil Rights era, was Kola Boof. I included her in this documentary because of her activism work and her commentary on Black feminism and the worldwide perception of Black women.
YK: I was interested in learning more about the inclusion of the archival footage that highlights the Moynihan Report as well as the Woman’s Welfare Club. What were the reasons these segments are part of the documentary?
NN: I included the Moynihan Report because it centered around the conversation about Black women. The report is evidence of certain cultural beliefs that started in the 60’s. I won’t say that this report is the cause for the belief that Black women’s role in the Black family weakens that of men’s, but this report can be seen as a type of mainstream evidence that this notion is still circulating around certain subcultures. That being the idea that Black women oppress the Black family through assuming the role of the Black male.
The Women’s Welfare Club was meant to be a transition between the conversation around white feminists and the women of color led movements. The Women’s Welfare Club shows the example of an actual organization formed for and led by Black women. It showcases resistance as a way of beginning the conversation around Black feminists and women of color led movements.
YK: Tell us a little bit more about your background. Aside from knowing that you are also a dancer and a filmmaker from Northampton, Mass., what else should we know about you as an artist? You can share whatever you’d like.
NN: That’s a really big question (laughs).
YK: Well, maybe as a starting off point, did you grow up making films? Do you come from a family of documentarians or artists? Or did you grow up creating art?
NN: You know…this film that I made, I didn’t have any film background when I made this film, when I started it. I learned as I made it. I’m an artist. I’m a natural. I’m very gifted. And I’ve always been that way and I am a bit of an outsider. And I’ve always been that way since I was a child as well. I just consider myself to be a multidisciplinary artist. So when I have a vision or passion, I throw myself completely into it and then I dedicate myself, so I can make the vision come to life. But other than that, I love cats. Really. I’m very passionate about the kitties. If you see any of my other films, there’s always a yellow cat in there. Other than that, right now, my main focus is pole dancing. I’m just training a lot right now and performing.
YK: Can you tell me about your involvement with the New Negress Film Society and what it meant to you as a Black female filmmaker?
NN: We started that, the New Negress Film Society, in 2013, which was the year that I released the film and it was really exciting for me to do that. Because really that was the first kind of organization of its kind, where it was just for and about Black women filmmakers and so I think it really was my first experience forming and having a real community who had shared a similar experience as me.
And that’s really why I came to Brooklyn and it was to have that. It was an honor for me because my favorite filmmakers were Black female filmmakers who were Tisch graduates and stuff. I got to screen my film alongside one of my favorite film directors, Nikyatu Jusu. And it was just an honor for me to work with these artists and to create something like this. I am no longer a part of the New Negress Film Society, but I think we did a lot of really important work and I’m so glad that I got to be a part of it.
YK: What was the most surprising piece of feedback/response you received from your viewing audience regarding the documentary?
NN: My first ever screening of Reflections Unheard happened when I was about to graduate from Boston University and I posted it at the Women’s Resource Center and I had always thought that the film would only be appealing to Black women and that only Black women would be interested in attending. So I was very surprised to see a very diverse group of people of various genders and ages and races. I didn’t know other people would be interested and influenced by the work. I’d felt limited at the time, so this was a pleasant surprise. That it picked up in the way that it did. I was also surprised that I was able to make a living and travel from this film for a time. I never thought that the film would show in Africa, and I just went to the Congo this year where it was screened through the Tazama Film Festival, which focuses on African Women in cinema. The film was screened at the American Embassy in Congo, in front of a room of mostly Congolese men. That blew my mind. It continues to blow me away the people that are actually interested. It was beautiful.
Reflections Unheard: Black Women in Civil Rights (2013, Dir. Nevline Nnaji) Friday, April 8, 2016 | 3:00 p.m. | Phyllis Klotman Room at BFC/A (Wells Library 044B)