Category Archives: News

Reflections Unheard: BFC/A Interview with Nevline Nnaji

On Friday, April 8, at 3pm, the Black Film Center/Archive, IU Libraries Media Services, and Directed by Women will present a free screening of Nevline Nnaji’s 2013 documentary, Reflections Unheard: Black Women in Civil Rights.  The screening will take place in the Phyllis Klotman Room (044B) at the Black Film Center/Archive in Wells Library, on the IU Bloomington campus.

Free Huey Newton, Black Panther Rally, San Francisco, May 1, 1969

Free Huey Newton, Black Panther Rally, San Francisco, May 1, 1969. From REFLECTIONS UNHEARD: BLACK WOMEN IN CIVIL RIGHTS

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:

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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’s A 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?

From REFLECTIONS UNHEARD: BLACK WOMEN IN CIVIL RIGHTS

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.

From REFLECTIONS UNHEARD

From REFLECTIONS UNHEARD: BLACK WOMEN IN CIVIL RIGHTS

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).

Director Nevline Nnaji

Director Nevline Nnaji

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 TazamaFestfilm 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.

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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)

Trailer:

 


Memorabilia from Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame on Exhibit at Grunwald Gallery

Phil Moore Plaque from the Supremes

Phil Moore Plaque from the Supremes

A number of items from the Mary Perry Smith/Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame (BFHFI) Archive Collection will be on display at the IU Grunwald Gallery from Friday, October 23 through Wednesday, November 18th as part of its exhibition “The Wunderkammer: Curiosities in Indiana University Collections.”

An opening reception will be held on Friday, October 23rd from 6:00-8:00 pm at the Grunwald Gallery and a noon talk will be presented by the curators and managers of several of the represented special collections on Friday, November 6th at the Gallery.

The BFC/A’s selections include movie memorabilia that was collected by the BFHFI as part of its plan to eventually open a brick and mortar museum. Featured are a painting of film actress Madame Sul-Te-Wan, hand prints created by Lena Horne and Stepin Fetchit on paper with graphite under the supervision of Oakland artist Casper Banjo, and several personal effects belonging to Hollywood composer and arranger Phil Moore.

Painting of Madame Sul-Te-Wan

Painting of Madame Sul-Te-Wan

Although the BFHFI was never able to establish its own museum, the BFC/A is excited for this opportunity to display some of the more unusual and eye-catching items from its archives as a way of illustrating the BFHFI’s far-reaching impact on thirty years of independent film and filmmakers and celebrating the life of BFHFI co-founder Mary Perry Smith.

Items from the collections at the IU Archives, Archives of African American Music and Culture, Lilly Library, Kinsey Institute, Mathers Museum of World Cultures, Art Museum, Department of Biology Herbarium, and Elizabeth Sage Costume Collection will also be represented as part of the exhibit.

Additional information about the exhibit is available on the Grunwald Gallery’s site at http://www.indiana.edu/~grunwald/exhibitions.php?pid=the-wunderkammer-curiosities-in-indiana-university-collections.


Mary Perry Smith, Co-Founder of the BFHFI, Passes

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Mary Perry Smith. In addition to her roles as an educator, a philanthropist, and a promoter of black cultural heritage, Mary Perry Smith was a co-founder of Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, Inc. (BFHFI).

For over thirty years Smith played many roles within the BFHFI, as well, including serving as the first chairperson of the advisory board, coordinator and chair of the Educational Programs Committee, and board president from 1984 through the mid-1990s. Much of the organization’s archives, including records documenting its early history as a project of the Oakland Museum’s Cultural and Ethnics Affairs Guild in 1974, fell under Mary’s vigilant care.

Cultural and Ethnic Affairs Committee chairpersons Mary Perry Smith, Margot Hicks and Donald Therence with Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame inductee, Sammy Davis, Jr., 1974

Cultural and Ethnic Affairs Guild chairpersons Mary Perry Smith, Margot Hicks and Donald Therence with Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame inductee, Sammy Davis, Jr., 1974

The annual highlight of the BFHFI from 1974—1993 was its Black History Month Celebration, which included the star-studded Oscar Micheaux Awards Ceremony and a celebrity dinner and dance gala. Inductees and awardees included filmmakers and artists such as Paul Robeson, Stepin Fetchit, Gordon Parks, Sammy Davis, Jr., Diahann Carol, Dizzy Gillespie, Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Julie Dash, Spike Lee, Brock Peters, Maya Angelou, Tempest Bledsoe, Jim Brown, Madame Sul-Te-Wan, Richard Pryor, and many, many others. The celebration also included a film and lecture series, film symposium, and film competition co-hosted and co-sponsored by UC Berkeley, the Oakland Museum, and the BFHFI.

A large-scale volunteer effort, the Hall of Fame soon outgrew the resources and energy of the staff at the Oakland Museum and so it became an incorporated non-profit organization in 1978. In addition to its annual Black History Month Celebration, the BFHFI also sponsored and hosted master classes, workshops, film screenings, and other educational events throughout the year. Smith was heavily involved in the planning and oversight of many of these events. 1990 marked the start of Black Filmworks, a film festival designed to showcase landmark films and winning submissions to the annual film competition.

Mary Perry Smith with special directorial award presented posthumously to Oscar Micheaux by the Directors Guild of America, 1986

Mary Perry Smith with special directorial award presented posthumously to Oscar Micheaux by the Directors Guild of America, 1986

Besides administrative records and souvenir items, the BFHFI archives include highlights such as a dress and boots worn by Ruby Dee in I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, a pair of Harold Nicholas’s tap shoes, signed celebrity hand prints created under the supervision of Casper Banjo, two Oscar Micheaux novels signed by the author, an oil painting of Madame Sul-Te-Wan from the collection of early film aficionado Manny Weltman, and the papers, photographs, and audio recordings of jazz composer and arranger Phil Moore. The BFHFI’s long sought after goal was to establish a brick and mortar museum to house and exhibit items such as these. The archives also contain over 1000 video recordings that include footage of BFHFI events and nearly 20 years’ worth of submissions to the annual film competition.

Smith donated the BFHFI archives to the BFC/A in February 2014 (see previous story). Since then our staff has worked diligently to process approximately 300 boxes full of material. The media recordings are slated to undergo digital preservation as part of Indiana University’s Media Preservation and Digitization Initiative starting this fall through fall 2018. Several items will also be displayed as part of an exhibit hosted at the Grunwald Gallery located on the IU Bloomington campus from October 23rd through November 18th as a means of increasing awareness of the collection throughout and beyond the IU community.

Smith has left behind a breathtaking legacy. Her tireless efforts greatly influenced the shape and direction of the BFHFI and garnered recognition and support of black filmmakers and artists for over thirty years. Her careful stewardship of the collection has ensured that this and future generations will have access to this invaluable record of black filmmaking in the last quarter of the 20th century.

Details on a celebration of her life are forthcoming.

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BLACK CAMERA Vol. 6, No. 2 Now Available

The latest issue of Black Camera: An International Film Journal is now available in print and online from the Indiana University Press.

Spring2015

The Spring 2015 issue includes two Close-ups: One on John Akomfrah and the Black Audio Film Collective, from guest editors Matthias De Groof and Stéphane Symons, featuring articles by Stoffel Debuysere, Kobena Mercer, Manuela Ribeiro Sanches, Laura U. Marks, Kass Banning, and John Akomfrah; and a second on Sexuality, Eroticism, and Gender in Black Films and New Media, from guest editor L.H. Stallings, featuring articles by Angelique V. Nixon, Kai M. Green, and Marlon Rachquel Moore.

The current issue also features a tribute to William Greaves by Noelle Griffis; an article on John Kitzmiller by Saverio Giovacchini; and an interview with Kevin Willmott by Derrais Carter.

For more information about Black Camera, please visit http://www.indiana.edu/~blackcam.  To subscribe, visit http://purchase.jstor.org/products.php?issn=15363155

 


New IU Summer Research Fellowship Now Available through the Institute for Advanced Study

The Indiana University Institute for Advanced Study (IAS) has announced its Summer Research Fellowship, a new program offered in partnership with repositories on the Bloomington campus.  The Black Film Center/Archive is pleased to be among the partner repositories for this program.

Beginning in Summer 2015, IAS will fund a short-term Summer Research Fellowship for a visiting scholar to conduct in-depth research in the collections of one or more of IAS’s partner repositories. Applications from researchers at Minority Serving Institutions, community colleges and in source communities are welcome. Preference will be given to applicants who are collaborating with Indiana University Bloomington faculty members.

This initiative is intended to support research in the rich collections of the IU Bloomington campus and to build partnerships between scholars at and beyond IUB. The fellowship provides funding for travel costs, accommodation, per diem, and a two-week stipend. Summer 2015 partner repositories include the Archives of Traditional Music, the Black Film Center/Archive, the Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology, the IU Libraries, and the Mathers Museum of World Cultures. Applications are due by June 1, 2015. For application materials and additional information, please visit the IAS website at http://ias.indiana.edu/fellows/summer-research-fellowship/ .

The Institute for Advanced Study is a research center of the Indiana University Office of the Vice Provost for Research.


Job Posting: Project Archivist, IU Black Film Center/Archive

13755 – Project Archivist, Communication and Culture (Black Film Center/Archive), Indiana University – Bloomington

The Indiana University Black Film Center/Archive (BFCA) seeks qualified candidates for the position of Project Archivist.

SUMMARY: Reporting to the Archivist and Head of Public and Technology Services, the Project Archivist will provide support for the project, Richard E. Norman and Race Filmmaking: Reprocessing and Digitization. The principal responsibilities will be to: reprocess, arrange, and describe the reintegrated holdings of Richard E. Norman; prepare and encode a finding aid and other descriptive access tools; participate in outreach activities; contribute to the management and production of a large-scale digitization project; and participate in the training and supervision of a student scanning technician.

ABOUT THE BFCA: The Black Film Center/Archive was established at Indiana University Bloomington in 1981 as the first archival repository dedicated to collecting, preserving, and making available historically and culturally significant films by and about Black people. The BFCA’s mission today encompasses within its scope films of Africa and the Diaspora. The BFCA’s primary objectives are to promote scholarship on Black film and to serve as an open resource for scholars, researchers, students, and the general public; to curate and exhibit Black film, ephemera, and memorabilia; to encourage and promote creative film activity by independent Black filmmakers; and to undertake and support research on the history, impact, theory, and aesthetics of Black film traditions.

REQUIRED: Master’s degree in library science from an ALA-accredited institution with coursework in Archives or Master’s degree in archival studies and two years relevant experience in a library, archives, or manuscript repository.

Applications accepted until May 21, 2015, or until position is filled.  Resume and cover letter required. For a full position description and to apply, visit http://jobs.iu.edu and search for job number 13755.


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

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

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Phyllis R. Klotman, 1924-2015

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

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

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

Photo Gallery

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Phyllis R. Klotman with Shirley Chisholm, 1973

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

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

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

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

Camille Billops and Phyllis Klotman

Camille Billops and Phyllis Klotman

Zeinabu irene Davis and Phyllis Klotman

Zeinabu irene Davis and Phyllis Klotman

Phyllis Klotman with Maya Angelou

Phyllis Klotman with Maya Angelou

Phyllis Klotman with Marlon Riggs

Phyllis Klotman with Marlon Riggs

Klotman and Sembene0001

Ousmane Sembene and Phyllis Klotman

Phyllis Klotman with Scatman Crothers

Phyllis Klotman with Scatman Crothers


See also: 

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

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