Category Archives: New films

New Orleans Connections: VANISHING PEARLS Director Nailah Jefferson interviewed by Eileen Julien

NailahHeadshotlowresNailah Jefferson’s powerful documentary Vanishing Pearls examines the effects of the oil and gas industry on a small African American oyster fishing community in Louisiana’s gulf coast. After a world premiere at this year’s Slamdance Film Festival, and theatrical openings in New York and Los Angeles, Vanishing Pearls will screen at the Indiana University Cinema for one night only on Thursday, June 5 at 7pm.

Last month IU professor and New Orleans native Eileen Julien talked to Jefferson about her film. Below is the portion of their conversation that took place over email.

Eileen Julien: You have said that you wanted to tell the story of Pointe à la Hache—“if not to save this community, then to let the world know a place like this once existed.” Tell us about this place.  What is so special and compelling to you about Pointe à la Hache?

Nailah Jefferson: I grew up in New Orleans, just about 60 miles away from Pointe à la Hache.  Even though the distance between the two doesn’t seem that far, the way of living is a world apart. Pointe à la Hache is a community that is still very much dependent on the land and water. It’s been that way for over a century.  The families that still live in Pointe à la Hache were some of the first African American and Creole families to settle there following slavery.  They gained their independence through fishing and farming and were able to build a sustainable community.  To this day, the community still literally grows and harvests much of its own food.  That’s not because technology passed them by.  It was and still is a choice of many to stay in the “country”, as they refer to it, and live a simple life where legacy and tradition trump technology and innovation.

What I found to be most interesting though, is that they harvest my seafood.  I never knew it was these small families businesses, just 60 miles away, that were responsible for the seafood I enjoyed at home in New Orleans all my life.

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EJ: Is there a scene or sequence of the film that you find especially satisfying and why so?

NJ: There are two scenes I’m quite satisfied with.  The first would be the history of the African American oystermen and their struggle to become independent.  That’s a story that somehow eluded the Louisiana history books.  So, for the first time we are bringing that story to the masses.  The second would be when oyster season finally opens.  The season finally reopened in October 2011, 17 months after the BP Spill.  I’d heard the fishermen’s stories about harvesting oysters, but never witnessed it.  So, going out on the water with the guys just before dawn and seeing the sun rise on the bay was a magnificent sight.  Finally reaching our destination and watching them, after over a year of waiting, drop dredge and get back to work, was a thrill.  I think everyone on the boat that day was experiencing a mix of emotions – excited, nervous, hopeful, scared. That was probably my favorite shoot.

EJ: Film scholars claim that documentaries don’t just “tell the truth” or give objective testimonies: they actually present a point of view, they make arguments.  What arguments does Vanishing Pearls make?

NJ: Vanishing Pearls definitely does make an argument.  I’d say the argument is that the community of Pointe à la Hache, contrary to BP’s reports, has not economically or ecologically rebounded from the devastation caused by the BP oil spill. Furthermore, BP has not taken full responsibility for the devastation caused by their spill and unfortunately our elected officials are not assuring that BP will be held accountable so that communities like Pointe à la Hache and others still suffering along the Gulf Coast get justice.

EJ: Your film tells a Louisiana story—about family, the environment, ways of life, and even the history of Louisiana racism.  It is a very local story, but would you agree that it transcends its place of locality, that it is also the story of many communities around our “globalized” world?

NJ: Yes, I believe Vanishing Pearls does transcend Louisiana.  In many places throughout the US and beyond, oil and gas companies are allowed to exploit natural resources, ravage lands and put communities at risk all for the economic advancement of those companies.  This happens from Russia to Nigeria, North Dakota to Ohio.  Unfortunately, the story of big oil and gas’s abuse is a global one and not just the story of Pointe à la Hache fishermen as told in Vanishing Pearls.

EJ: What are the challenges and joys of documentary filmmaking?  Is documentary filmmaking becoming more important?

NJ: There are many challenges of documentary filmmaking, but they are far outweighed by the joys.  Raising money is a challenge, getting people to buy into your vision is a challenge, but connecting with your characters and being enlightened by new subjects and different ways of life is such a joy.  Relating to people and learning that no matter how different we may seem or live or speak or look, we all have one common goal and that is to be happy.  That realization was renewed every day that I got to talk to the people of Pointe à la Hache, and for that I am very grateful. Documentary filmmaking is very important because as we all become more connected to our devices and phones and various pads and tablets, we are truly less humanly connected. Documentaries reinforce that human touch and the experience of engaging people.  They reinforce the human connection that we are losing.

EJ: Are there particular hardships and advantages to being a black female director at this time?

NJ: I actually think there are fear mongers out there who try to tell you it’s hard.  They’ll try to tell you that your project can’t be too black or too foreign to the status quo because no one will watch or relate.  But again, the point of documentaries, at least one of the points, is to open people up to another perspective, one they’ve never seen or contemplated.  So, my belief is that the more uncommon or unfamiliar the view, the more you actually have to offer. In my book, being a minority, both black and female, is advantageous.

Note: special thanks to African American Film Festival Releasing Movement’s Mercedes Cooper for facilitating this interview.

Check out the film’s trailer here:

 


Third Annual Gary International Black Film Festival, October 18-20

This evening kicks off the Third Annual Gary International Black Film Festival (GIBFF) held at the Bergland Auditorium at Indiana University Northwest in Gary, Indiana. The mission of the GIBFF, as stated on their website is “To build community and culture through the experience of film.”

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The GIBFF website further stated:

Our goal is to foster authentic discussion about our culture and history by using films that provide a counterbalance for widely distributed misaligned representation of our heritage and contributions to American and global society.  Some films are serious, some are funny and irreverent, but we hope that all the films are provocative enough to stay with the audience long after they have left the theater.

The three day festival, held from October 18th until October 20th, is comprised of more than ten film screenings and several in-depth discussions and film critiques with filmmakers,  for adults and youth. Ticket prices vary for the film screenings, and some of the featured discussion sessions are free to the public.

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Director Alexandre Moors opens the GIBFF at 7 p.m. on Friday, October 18th with his feature debut film Blue Caprice.  Based on true events, Blue Caprice presents the bloody journey and viewpoint of the infamous father-son Beltway snipers.  Other filmmakers and directors featured in the GIBFF include Mark Perry (Veterans of Color), Ava DuVernay (The Door and Say Yes), Victoria Mahoney (Yelling to the Sky), Joel Kapity (Dreams), Jeymes Samuel (They Die by Dawn) Andrew Dosunmu (Mother of George), and R Malcolm Jones (The Magic City). The GIBFF closes out their three-day festival with Gary-born filmmaker Charles Murray on Sunday, October 20th starting at 5 p.m.  Murray will be screening his film Things Never Said and hosting an intimate discussion following the screening.

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For more information on the Gary International Black Film Festival please visit their website www.garyblackfilmfest.org or call (219)200-4243.

~Katrina Overby


Fall Preview: BFC/A and IU Cinema Showcase Ava DuVernay + AFFRM

This September, the BFC/A will kick off our fall 2013 program with a seven-film series at the IU Cinema and other venues, featuring the work of Ava DuVernay and her pioneering theatrical distribution partnership AFFRM (African American Film Festival Releasing Movement).  Named as one of Indiewire’s inaugural group of 40 Influencers, DuVernay is scheduled to attend the series and to give a lecture and masterclass.  BFC/A director Michael Martin will also conduct an extensive interview with DuVernay for later publication in the journal, Black Camera.

BFC/A extends special thanks to the Indiana University Women’s Philanthropy Council, which selected this program for funding through their WPC Fund grant program.  (Find the WPC press release here.)  Other series sponsors include: IU Cinema, the Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies, Department of American Studies, Department of Communication and Culture, and the Film and Media Studies program at Indiana University.

The series is planned to include five of DuVernay’s productions, which illustrate her dedication to telling compelling stories about black women:

Venus VS (2013)

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(courtesy ESPN Films)

Middle of Nowhere (2012)

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I Will Follow (2011)

(courtesy AFFRM)

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My Mic Sounds Nice: A Truth About Women in Hip-hop (2010) — Available in full from BET here

My Mic Sounds Nice

(BET Networks)

This Is the Life (2008)

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DuVernay’s short film, The Door, exemplifies this devotion to the diversity of black women and their stories.  You can watch it here in its entirety:

Two recent AFFRM releases will round out the program:  Storm Saulter’s Caribbean thriller/romance Better Mus’ Comeand Neil Drumming’s Big Words.  The final schedule will be released later this summer.

Stay tuned in the upcoming weeks for more on the BFC/A’s other exciting fall events.

~Nzingha Kendall


Monday, March 18: Audre Lorde documentary and guests at IU Cinema

On Monday, March 18, the Black Film Center/Archive welcomes guests Drs. Marion Kraft and Dagmar Schultz to present and discuss the 2012 documentary, AUDRE LORDE: THE BERLIN YEARS 1984 to 1992.

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At 3:00 PM, Afro-German scholar and Lorde translator Dr. Marion Kraft will present a Jorgensen Lecture at IU Cinema to discuss her role in the film and Lorde’s influence on the German Black and Feminist movements.

At 7:00 PM, Director Dr. Dagmar Schultz will present her 2012 documentary and will be joined by Dr. Kraft for a Q&A following the film.

The trailer is available online here.

Schultz wrote recently:

A year has passed since AUDRE LORDE – THE BERLIN YEARS 1984 to 1992 had its world premier at the Berlinale. The film has been screened at over 40 festivals worldwide and has been shown at numerous other venues and at conferences in Switzerland, the United Kingdom and the United States. Interest in the film is expanding more and more: e.g. in Germany AIDS projects are screening it. We hope that it will reach more and more colleges and universities and also schools – for that purpose Marion Kraft designed the Study Guide on the website!

Ika Hügel-Marshall and I travelled 2012 with the Audre Lorde Legacy Cultural Festival in England and in the United States. Now in March 2013 Marion Kraft, protagonist in the film and translator of Audre Lorde’s poetry, and I have embarked on a tour in Canada and the US (for detailed information see calendar on the website):
We are 
– on March 15 at the University of Toronto with the Women and Gender Studies and Caribbean Studies
– on March 16 in Waterloo, Ontario for the Rainbow Reels Queer Film Festival
– on March 18 at Indiana University with the Black Film Center/Archive
– on March 20 in New York City with the Goethe Institute

The film will follow this run with a March 23 appearance at the Egyptian Theatre in Los Angeles as part of the 2013 Outfest Fusion Film Festival.

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March 4: THE HOUSE I LIVE IN with guest speaker David Kuhn

Grand Jury Prize winner of Sundance Film Festival 2012, The House I Live In will screen on March 4 at 7:00 pm in Jordan Hall 124.  Co-sponsored by the Poynter Center for the Study of Ethics and American institutions, the School of Public and Environmental Affairs, the Black Film Center/Archive, the Department of Criminal Justice, the Maurer School of Law, the Hutton Honors College, the Department of American Studies, and the Political and Civic Engagement Program, the screening will be followed by a Q&A session with former public defender turned film producer David Kuhn.

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Produced by an award-winning filmmaker, public thinker and author Eugene Jarecki, The House I Live In looks into America’s failed drug war.

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The documentary’s synopsis:

As America remains embroiled in conflict overseas, a less visible war is taking place at home, costing countless lives, destroying families, and inflicting untold damage on future generations of Americans. Over forty years, the War on Drugs has accounted for more than 45 million arrests, made America the world’s largest jailer, and damaged poor communities at home and abroad. Yet for all that, drugs are cheaper, purer, and more available today than ever before. Filmed in more than twenty states, The House I Live In captures heart-wrenching stories from individuals at all levels of America’s War on Drugs. From the dealer to the grieving mother, the narcotics officer to the senator, the inmate to the federal judge, the film offers a penetrating look inside America’s longest war, offering a definitive portrait and revealing its profound human rights implications.

While recognizing the seriousness of drug abuse as a matter of public health, the film investigates the tragic errors and shortcomings that have meant it is more often treated as a matter for law enforcement, creating a vast machine that feeds largely on America’s poor, and especially on minority communities. Beyond simple misguided policy, The House I Live In examines how political and economic corruption have fueled the war for forty years, despite persistent evidence of its moral, economic, and practical failures.

~Jake Yoon


‘The Ugandan’ to Premiere in Boston

I am Ugandan

The Ugandan – a new film from director Patrick Sekyaya – will make its US premiere on Thursday, December 6th, at the Embassy Theater in Boston. The film chronicles several intertwined and complicated relationships that result from Idi Amin’s 1972 expulsion of Asians from Uganda.  From the film’s synopsis:

The Ugandan is a feature film about Raman, an Indian survivor of Idi Amin’s regime, who is blackmailed by his Ugandan girl friend (Becky) when he claims his father’s property. Drama unfolds when his daughter falls in love with Becky’s brother. In this riveting story of lies, love and xenophobia, we get a peak into the legacy of Idi Amin’s Uganda and the challenges of inter-racial relationships in a country where polarization has created a deep mistrust on all sides.

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The Ugandan took top honors at this year’s Silicon Valley African Film Festival, and stars the director as well as Halima Namakula and Dora Mwima.  Forrest Whitaker (who played Idi Amin in Last King of Scotland), Van Vickers of Nollywood, and Ghyslaine Tchouaga (Miss Africa USA) will all be in attendance at the premiere in Boston, which was chosen to host the premiere in part because of its large Ugandan expat population (check out Radio Uganda Boston here).  The Kampala premiere will occur in early 2013.

Here is the trailer for the film:

The film is noteworthy for its specifically Ugandan take (that is, uniquely taking place in Uganda and produced/directed by Ugandans, even as Ugandan-ness itself is interrogated in the film) on the expulsions of Indians in 1972, and takes its place in a small but important filmic body dealing with the era, from an array of interesting perspectives.

Mississippi Masala, the 1992 film directed by Mira Nair and starring Denzel Washington and Sarita Choudhury, tells the story of an Indo-Ugandan family expelled in 1972 who settle (and find love) against another racially charged backdrop: Biloxi, Mississippi.  The film is set in Mississippi and Uganda.  There’s also Charas (the title refers to hashish made in the greater Indian subcontinent), a 1976 Hindi movie directed by Ramanand Sangar, in which the expulsions take place while Kalicharan tries to conceal his involvement in drug smuggling from another Indian family whose property he is supposed to be caring for.

It’s great to see The Ugandan added to the canon, and I’ll look forward to seeing how the film wrestles with the past, if it becomes widely available. If you’re in Boston – check it out!

Posters

~ Jonathan Jenner


2013 Sundance Film Festival Announcements

Image Courtesy of Sundance Institute

“Each year at this time we look forward with great anticipation and excitement to the discovery of new voices at the Sundance Film Festival…” announced Executive Director of the Sundance Institute, Keri Putnam, and 2013 is no different. With 12,146 entries, an increase of 429 films submissions from 2012, the Sundance programming team spent endless hours in front of monitors and television screens, searching for works that presented exciting and thought-provoking images and dialogue. From this overwhelming number of visual creations the team of panelists drew up the final list of 113 films for competition in the 2013 Sundance Film Festival (January 17-27, 2013). Sundance will also screen numerous films in an “out-of-competition” category entitled Next that promotes creative and bold storytelling.

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One film of note in the Next category is Blue Caprice, directed by Alexandre Moors. The film chronicles the true life story of John Allen Williams, better known to the public as John Allen Muhammed, played by well-known actor Isaiah Washington. In 2002, Muhammed, a deeply troubled man captured national attention as he orchestrated a series of shootings and became known as the D.C. sniper. Far from black and white, this directorial debut attempts to shed light on the nuances surrounding the decisions of John Allen Williams, his motives, and the consequences of his actions.

Image Courtesy of Newlyweeds Facebook Page

The Next film category also offers up a work by Shaka King, who has won film awards for his screenplays and shorts. His latest work, Newlyweeds, follows the romantic trials of a young couple torn apart by weed. Written as a dark comedy, the story focuses on the importance of priorities in relationships and the effects of choosing a substance or dependency over a person. The film has already been selected as a finalist for the New York University Columbus Vague award and for inclusion in the 2011 IFP Emerging Narratives series.

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The films in the Next category, like the ones described above, compliment the main attractions, 16 documentaries and 16 narrative feature films that will have their world premieres at the Sundance Film Festival. One filmmaker to watch out for is Andrew Dosunmu, now making his second début at Sundance. Andrew Dosunmu, director of Restless City (screened at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival) has entered the competition with his latest work Mother of George. The protagonist in Dosunmu’s work is a South African Basotho immigrant, Janet Matashane, brought to New York by her fiancée Denni Mobama. Following their traditional Basotho marriage, in which Janet is named after her future son George, Ma George as she is called, begins to settle into life. She plays the role of the attentive wife perfectly except in one way. As the weeks and months progress, Ma George fails to become pregnant. Her ‘son’ George, for whom she is named, remains only a dream. As she struggles to find her place in the bustling city of New York, far away from the traditions and comfort of her Basotho homeland, Ma George is further confronted by the possibility of having to grant her husband permission to find a second wife with the ability to conceive children. Funded by a large grant from the Ford Foundation, Mother of George captures the frantic efforts of a woman faced with the potential loss of her most pressing desires, a son and a husband.

Image Courtesy of AmericanPromise.org

In contrast to the singular and fictional trials of Ma George, American Promise, a film by Joe Brewster and Michèle Stephenson, is a documentary that follows the lives of two young African-American boys from their enrollment in kindergarten through their 12th grade graduation.  The film is described as an accurate and detailed portrait of the daily trials that face young black boys, particularly in middle class families. As such, the storylines within American Promise  further emphasize the ongoing educational limitations for African-American men. Working to resolve these social issues, American Promise will premiere alongside a national campaign in support of the Big Brothers Big Sisters program, Mentoring Brothers in Action. Research has shown that children mentored through Big Brothers Big Sisters are more likely to succeed in school.  American Promise hopes to inspire people to give their time and money, with the goal of raising $100,000 and 100,000 volunteer hours.

~Ardea Smith