Category Archives: IU Cinema

An Interview with African Film Festival Founder Mahen Bonetti

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Mahen Bonetti, Founder & Executive Director of African Film Festival Inc.

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!

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Faaji Agba (2015) by Remi Vaughan Richards

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.

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Hood by Air’s Spring, 2016 Collection

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.

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Featured at 2016’s Toronto International Film Festival: Green White Green (2016) by Abba Makama

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?

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Map of Sierra Leone

 

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.

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Afrique, je te plumerai…. (1992) by Jean-Marie Teno

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 begins at Indiana University tonight, Sept. 12, 7pm, with Dare Fasasi’s HEAD GONE at the IU Cinema, and continues from Sept. 13-15 at the Black Film Center/Archive. 

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.

 


Black Film Center/Archive Fall 2016 Preview

Black Film Center/Archive’s Fall Preview, 2016

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 bfca@indiana.edu.

September, 2016

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 series at IU kicks off with a feature presentation of Dare Fasasi’s Head Gone on September 12 at the IU Cinema, and continues over the following three days with screenings in the Phyllis Klotman Room (Wells 044B) at the BFC/A.

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.

Screenings: 

  • 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.

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      Head Gone (2014)

  • 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.4fecf3_4eb91ae3f3f94ad89d135478bbbb4473
  • 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.

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      Afripedia:Ghana (2014)

    • *6:30 pm Afripedia: Kenya (2014), Directed by Teddy Goitom, Benjamin Taft and Senay Berhe, Ghana/Kenya/Sweden, 28 min. In English.

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      Afripedia, Kenya (2014)

    • 7:00 pm The Longest Kiss (2013) Directed by Alexandra Sicotte-Lévesque, Sudan, 72 min. In English and Arabic with English subtitles.

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      The Longest Kiss (2013)

*for more information on Afripedia, take a look at okayafrica’s coverage of this documentary series.

  • 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.

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      Cholo (2014)

    • 4:30 pm Panic Button (2014) Directed by Libby Dougherty, South Africa, 25 min. In English.

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      Panic Button (2014)

    • 5:00 pm The Prophecy (2015) Directed by Marcia Juzga, Senegal, 20 min. In French & Wolof with English subtitles.the_prophecy_9

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      The Prophecy (2015)

October, 2016

  • 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.

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Gerald C. Butters, Author and Scholar

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Beyond Blaxpoitation (forthcoming release, December, 2016)

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

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      Versailles ’73: American Runway Revolution (2012)

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

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      Olympic Pride, American Prejudice (2016)

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.

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Deborah Riley Draper, Filmmaker

#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
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A Huey P. Newton Story (1991)

  • 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

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      The Black Power Mixtape 1967-1975

#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.

December, 2016

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.

 

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Filmmaker and author, Julie Dash

  • 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

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      Diary of an African Nun (1977)

  • 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
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Daughters of The Dust (1991)

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.

 

 


THE BLACK G.I. and NO VIETNAMESE EVER CALLED ME NIGGER conclude IU Cinema series “40 Years On: Screening the Vietnam War”

This post was prepared as an introduction to the December 3, 2015, screening of Black Journal: The Black G.I. and No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger, which concludes the series “40 Years On: Screening the Vietnam War.” The screening takes place at 7PM at the IU Cinema and will be followed by a discussion with series curator James Paasche, BFC/A director Michael T. Martin, and BFC/A graduate assistant Dorothy Berry.

This series is sponsored by WTIU, IU Cinema, the Black Film Center/Archive, the Cinema and Media Studies program, The Media School, Indiana University Center for Documentary Research and Practice, and Veteran Support Services.

 

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The Black G.I. and No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger highlight the parallels between the Civil Rights Movement and the Vietnam War, calling to stark attention the divisive issue of race in both military and civilian life. While the draft swept through the lives of the hundreds of thousands of men, the politically and economically disenfranchised were far more likely to face selective service, and African American men were largely part of those demographics. The films in tonight’s screening highlight the still-ongoing conflict of double-consciousness – patriotic Americans who want to serve and protect their country, even though their lived experience tells them that their country does not want to protect them.

The Black G.I. is a phenomenal documentary produced by filmmaker Kent Garrett for the WNET public affairs program, Black Journal. Garrett was granted permission to go to Vietnam by the Pentagon, in the hopes that the Black Journal episode would focus on the successes of African American military officers. Though they were guided through the country by Pentagon-sponsored public information officers, Garrett and his crew were given enough freedom that they were able to document the stories of the many men who followed after them and asked to participate.

The military men in The Black G.I. tell a story of service in an incredibly segregated army. Coming from a U.S. setting where performative Blackness, especially through dress and music, had never been more important, drafted men express anger at not being able to wear their natural hair and dashikis. Beyond questions of uniformity, their real complaints are that even on the other side of the world, they are still treated as though they are on the bottom rung. Soldiers talk about being called ugly by Vietnamese people, with one solider saying “Vietnamese girls called me a nigger – I know it’s not part of their language.” The idea that there was no equity of experience runs through the Black military narratives from drafted men to the military officers.

Those officers, the ones the Pentagon wanted featured, had a different, professional and career-oriented perspective on their service, but even the most loyal of them would not deny the issues faced. While they agreed things had gotten better, as their interviews progress, the disdain at their mistreatment bubbles to the surface (while remaining below the levels of insubordination).

In Struggles for Representation: African American Documentary Film and Video, Janet Cutler [co-editor, with her mother, BFC/A founder Phyllis Klotman – Ed.] discusses the thread of radical Black Nationalism that laced through every episode of Black Journal, mentioning a specific segment titled “And We Will Survive” where a blues singer’s cry of “Have you ever been mistreated? Then you know what I’m talking about” was layered with images of Vietnamese villages and a photo of an elderly Black man holder a poster reading “No Vietnamese Ever Called me Nigger.”

Scene from the 1967 Spring Mobilization to End the War

Scene from the 1967 Spring Mobilization to End the War

That shared colonial subjectivity implied with photographic collage by Black Journal comes into focus in the second documentary of tonight’s screening, which shares its name with that very poster. No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger was filmed by director David Loeb Weiss and cameraman Michael Wadleigh on the occasion of the April 15, 1967 Spring Mobilization To End the War March. Though anti-war sentiment and a lack of support for the returning troops have become hallmarks in the collective memory of the Vietnam War, Weiss’ documentary shows a specific and separate response coming directly from and to the African American community.

The Mobilization March took place one week after Martin Luther King Jr.’s Riverside Church speech “Beyond Vietnam- A Time to Break Silence,” wherein the leader and orator protested the war, saying

We were taking the Black young men who had been crippled by our society and sending them eight thousand miles away to guarantee liberties in Southeast Asia which they had not found in southwest Georgia and East Harlem.

That sentiment – that there was a cruel irony in sending an oppressed people to fight in the name of their country for the freedom of others – is echoed in Weiss’ film, both by the protesters at the March and by the three Black Vietnam veterans, Dalton James, Preston Lay Jr., and Akmed Lorence, interviewed for the film. The three men express the same issue that Black soldiers had experienced after returning home from all major wars, that in spite of any equality gained in the military, in civilian life they were still subject to the laws of Jim Crow.

No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger

Like the soldiers in The Black G.I., James, Lay Jr. and Lorence, experienced racism in their integrated troops in Vietnam and then the further indignity felt in returning to a racist homeland. When viewed as companion pieces, The Black G.I. and No Vietnamese Ever Called Me Nigger paint a picture of conflict – personal and institutional, domestic and international – that defined a generation of Black Americans and would shape America overall for decades to come.

~Dorothy Berry


SEMBENE! directors Samba Gadjigo and Jason Silverman visit Indiana University, Oct. 19-20

With a filmography spanning over forty years, Senegal’s Ousmane Sembène (1923-2007) earned international renown as a revolutionary artist and as the “Father of African Cinema” for his indigenized filmmaking practice. Sembène eschewed Western languages and narrative style for a new cinematic aesthetic drawing from African storytelling traditions, performed in African languages (Wolof, Diola, Bambara), and expressly produced for African audiences. Sembène has been heard to say: “Africa is my ‘audience’ while the West and the ‘rest’ are only targeted as ‘markets.’” Fifty years on from his first feature production, the Black Film Center/Archive and IU Cinema celebrate his legacy with a series featuring a new documentary and digital restorations of two of his earliest films.

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In addition to the October 19 screenings of La Noire De … (Black Girl) and Borom Sarret (The Wanderer), the new biographical documentary Sembène! will be shown at IU Cinema on Tuesday, October 20th, with filmmakers Samba Gadjigo and Jason Silverman scheduled to attend. This will follow a roundtable discussion with BFC/A director Michael T. Martin.

Reviewing its 2015 premiere at Sundance, Bilge Ebiri wrote that, of all the festival’s entries this year, “no film demonstrated the power of cinema more resonantly than Sembène!” The documentary chronicles Ousmane Sembène’s fascinating life as a militant artist, self-taught novelist, and “Father of African Cinema.” Using rare archival footage, animation, and the firsthand experience of Sembène expert and colleague Samba Gadjigo, the filmmakers present an honest and complex portrait of a man whose significance to modern African culture cannot be overstated.

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Jason Silverman and Samba Gadjigo

 

Sembène! emerges also as Gadjigo’s story, as he recounts the ways that Sembène’s work transformed his life. The Mount Holyoke professor was born in Senegal, where his life was changed by Sembène’s novel, God’s Bits of Wood. After earning his PhD from the University of Illinois, Gadjigo returned to Africa to connect with the artist who had such a formative impact on his life. “We worked together for 17 years,” Gadjigo told Indiewire. “and it was an honor to help him bring his stories into the world. On the day of his death, I promised that I would not let his stories be forgotten. That’s why we made this film.”

Jason Silverman, who is the director of the cinemathèque at the Center of Contemporary Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, reached out to Samba Gadjigo as part of an effort to include more African film in the center’s programming. “I knew Jason was so knowledgeable about the cinema world,” Gadjigo told BOMB Magazine, “so I told him I had all this [Sembène] material and wanted him to help me organize it. A film really wasn’t the idea so much as building a website to share all this material with the world. He looked at me and said, ‘No. We should make a movie!’”

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Ousmane Sembène

 

In conjunction with the IU Cinema and BFC/A screening series, Sembène: Father of African Cinema, Black Film Center/Archive director Michael T. Martin will moderate a roundtable discussion of Sembène’s work and legacy. This discussion will follow from the previous evening’s screenings of the World Cinema Project‘s digital restorations of La Noire De … (Black Girl) and Borom Sarret (The Wanderer).

Roundtable discussion participants include:

Akin Adesokan, Associate Professor of Comparative Literature

Samba Gadjigo, Professor of French, Mount Holyoke College, and Co-Director of Sembène! (2015)

Eileen Julien, Director, Institute for Advanced Study, and Professor of French and Comparative Literature

Michael T. Martin, Director, Black Film Center/Archive, and Professor of Cinema and Media Studies, The Media School

Jason Silverman, Cinematheque Director, Center for Contemporary Arts, Santa Fe, and Co-Director of Sembène! (2015)

The event is free, and begins at 3:30 PM, before the evening’s screening of Sembène!  This series is sponsored by the Black Film Center/Archive, The Media School, the Cinema and Media Studies program, and the departments of African Studies, French and Italian, and Comparative Literature.

~Jezy Gray


Celine Sciamma’s GIRLHOOD at the IU Cinema this week, May 28-30

Girlhood is a mesmerizing exercise in the enlightenment that can happen when a filmmaker shifts the male cinematic gaze ever so slightly and uncovers what looks like a whole new world.”–Ann Hornaday, The Washington Post

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Marieme/ Vic with her “bande de filles”

Director Celine Sciamma calls Girlhood (original title: Bande de Filles) the conclusion of her unplanned coming-of-age trilogy, following her 2006 debut Water Lilies and 2011’s Tomboy. Sciamma’s films bear little relation to the easily digestible, feel-good dramadies often associated with the coming-of-age moniker; instead, they draw from the genre’s strength–juxtaposing universal experiences of love, friendship, fear, and struggle with the particularities of an individual’s development–to bring to light stories and perspectives that are often neglected, both in reality and onscreen. Sciamma’s first two films explore queer sexuality and gender identity; Girlhood follows the everyday lives of France’s lower-class women of color. As Sue Harris writes in her Sight & Sound review: “This is no quietly incremental coming-of-age narrative, but a brash, at times distressing series of snapshots of the life of undereducated black working-class girls on the bottom rung of every social and economic ladder.”

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Karidja Touré as Marieme

Featuring non-professional actresses discovered at casting calls in the working class suburbs of Paris, the film follows a young teen named Marieme (Karidja Touré) as she transforms herself into “Vic” through her entry into a gang of teenage girls who commit petty crimes together but also watch out for one another, defending against the isolation and insecurity that stems from abusive personal relationships and their marginalized status in contemporary French society.

GIRLHOOD is playing at the Indiana University Cinema on May 28th and 29th at 7PM, and May 30th at 3PM. The Blu-ray edition of the film will also be available as part of the Black Film Center/ Archive’s permanent collection.


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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.


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

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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.

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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. http://dscotmiller.blogspot.com/2009/05/afrosurreal.html. He first published that in the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

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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.

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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.”

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