Moving Pictures by Amir George

During filmmaker/curator Amir George‘s research residency at the Black Film Center/Archive next week, he will present a short film program at The Media School, Meditation on An Archive.  The midday program takes place at the Franklin Hall screening room (304) on April 4, 11:30am-12:45pm.

 

MEDITATION ON AN ARCHIVE

One image influences another. Meditation on An Archive is amalgamation of a myriad of archives that Amir has been exposed to and he has drawn into his work.

Amir will briefly introduce his films and discuss his process of working with archival materials to make new moving pictures.

 

Shades of Shadows,  2015, 7 min

Commissioned by Chicago Film Archives. Shades of Shadows is a collaboration with psychedelic soul band The O’Mys, that delves into spiritual mysticism and ritual sacrifice. Created with all archival footage, the characters in the film seek to manifest a better self.

 

The Encompassed Wisdom of the Inevitable Manifestation, 1 min

A spell casting of images guided by a voice in the night

 

Black Gold,  1 min

Black Gold is a 8mm treasure hunt, a traditional song of black beauty.

 

Optimum Continuum (v.2.7)  12 min

An ever changing and on going barrage of blackness always in progress. Abrupt patterns, part of and as a whole.

 

The Meditation – 30 min

A archive of journals, excess, and experiences.

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Amir George is a filmmaker and curator. Born and bred in Chicago. Amir creates work for the cinema, installation, and live performance. Amir’s motion picture work has been screened at film festivals including Ann Arbor Film Festival, Trinidad and Tobago International Film Festival, BlackStar Film Festival, Afrikana Film Festival, and Chicago Underground Film Festival as well as cultural institutions, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Institute of Contemporary Arts, London, Anthology Film Archives, Glasgow School of Art, Museum of Contemporary Arts, Los Angeles, and Museum of Contemporary Arts Detroit. Amir has organized cinematic themed symposiums at Cooper Union, and Talbot Rice Gallery at the University of Edinburgh.  Amir has curated exhibitions at Transmission Gallery Scotland, and Silent Funny Chicago. In addition to founding The Cinema Culture, a grassroots film programming organization, Amir is the co-founder of Black Radical Imagination a touring experimental short film series with Erin Christovale.

 

 


A *Late* Read on Black Panther and the Dichotomies Within

I’m late to the party – practically a whole month –  but I have a lot of thoughts about Black Panther. When discussing blackness, there is always the issue of “doubleness” – for me personally, I think a lot about duality when thinking about this film. It is the nature of superhero films to have opposing characters, or they don’t work. “Good vs. evil” is a necessary device of the genre. However, an additional layers of complexity are added when blackness is part of the equation. I’ve heard the film called many things by my friends and colleagues – sensational, neoliberal, contrarian, groundbreaking, boring – the list goes on. For me, it feels hard to critique this film, as though negative critique betrays my blackness; having only positive commentary is equally as egregious and showcases a fear of critically engaging with works produced by members of my community. Alas, we shall go forward. I’ve only seen the film once, and I’m still processing. This blog is basically me airing out my thoughts.

First, I must admit, in the same vein as VSB writer Panama Jackson, that I don’t know a thing about Black Panther, as it pertains to the Marvel universe. I don’t believe this takes away from one’s ability to critically examine the film, however, it would disallow someone to understand the built in features that come with a Marvel product. Furthermore, it denotes a lack of background that may be necessary when profiling a character for the sake of analysis. Overall, I think that that film, like most hero films, centers itself upon the relationship between the hero and villain characters: T’Challa (Chadwick Boseman) and Killmonger (Michael B Jordan).

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Michael B. Jordan as Erik Killmonger (Left), Chadwick Boseman as T’Challa (Right).

The film gives me Martin vs. Malcolm vibes, in terms of the conflict between T’Challa and Killmonger. I think that there’s interesting commentary that Black Panther raises on the state of black liberation today, but I’m not sure what it is saying exactly. The plot feels thin – I think this where my biggest disconnect with the film is. Unpopular opinion, but it didn’t hold my attention. I get that it’s a superhero movie and though it can contain philosophical platitudes, this is not ultimately its responsibility. It’s a Hollywood blockbuster – another dichotomy comes to mind, between the worlds of industrial film vs. art cinema. This film isn’t nebulous on where it stands, but it feels like it could do so much more.

The women in this film are the people pushing Wakandan society forward and keeping it functioning on a daily basis. Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) collects intel on behalf of the nation and is a member of the Dora Milaje. Okoye (Danai Gurira) serves as the head of the Dora Milaje. Most notable to me was Shuri (Letitia Wright), the 16-year-old who is responsible for technological innovation on the island.

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Letitia Wright as Shuri, preparing to serve an L.

Her character was by far the most interesting in the film, as she exhibited the very real notion of black women being on the technological forefront (read: Sherrell Dorsey), the idea of youth advancing the society and the seemingly opposing forces of advancement and tradition. The world of this film does not function without its women – I think it could have been made stronger with more backstory, on at least one of them. The two hours may have felt more complete with this addition.

Okoye n' Nakia

Lupita Nyong’o as Nakia (Left) and Danai Gurira as Okoye (Right).

Technically speaking, I have to address the music and sound, as a sound artist myself. Kendrick Lamar curated soundtrack notwithstanding – from my memory, none of those songs appeared outside of the credits – the score felt lackluster. I am a huge fan of Ludwig Göransson, by proxy of Donald Glover, but some of the musical choices felt off. I understood the trap association that was being emphasized in relation to Killmonger, but thought that it was a bit heavy handed. There were a few scenes where I felt like the percussive nature of the instrumentals deflated the dialogue by making it harder to hear. The sound design was generally good, but something about the reverb during the ancestral scenes took me out of the picture. It sounded spacious, yet not ethereal and otherworldly.

I don’t believe in perfect films – if one exists, I haven’t seen it. Black Panther isn’t exempt from this, but it isn’t without its successes. The character dynamics are incredibly complex – I left wanting to know more about each character, and their backstories. I’m all for Afrofuturism being presented in the mainstream, and with other productions (e.g. Ava DuVernay’s excellent rendition of A Wrinkle in Time) also pulling from this aesthetic, it looks like it may be here for a while. After reading a disheartening article on a Chinese audience’s reaction to the film, it was clear to me why this film is important beyond the American context. If media is the forerunner of public perception, then Black Panther is a great offering of humanized black characters for the world to behold.

~Elijah Pouges


Idrissa Ouedraogo, 1954-2018

“[Our country] has lost a filmmaker of immense talent,” said Burkina Faso president Roch Marc Christian Kaboré.

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Portrait of Idrissa Ouedraogo, 1991, from BBC West Africa (no photographer or other info available) [COL 12 PA 16].  From the Josef Gugler African and Middle Eastern Film Collection, 1947-2013, Black Film Center/Archive, Indiana University – Bloomington. 

It is with heavy hearts that we at the BFC/A recognize and mourn the death of prolific Burkinabé filmmaker Idrissa Ouedraogo. He passed in Ouagadougou on February 18th, 2018. His films focused on conflicts between traditional life and modernity in Burkina Faso, and across Africa.  Ouedraogo went to great lengths to create his films, and studied his craft in both Kiev and Paris.

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Ouedraogo during production of KINI AND ADAMS, 1997, from Noé Productions [COL 12 PA 150]. From the Josef Gugler African and Middle Eastern Film Collection, 1947-2013, Black Film Center/Archive, Indiana University – Bloomington.  

A seminal work of Ouedraogo’s, Tilaï, premiered in 1990 at Toronto’s Festival of Festivals. The film later went on to win the Grand Prix award at Cannes the same year and the Étalon de Yennenga at FESPACO in 1991. The film casts a critical lens on familial honor with traditional African societies.

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Idrissa Ouedraogo receiving Stallion of Yennenga for Tilai at FESPACO ’91 (Photographer unlisted) [COL 12 PA 15]. From the Josef Gugler African and Middle Eastern Film Collection, 1947-2013, Black Film Center/Archive, Indiana University – Bloomington. 

For members of the IU Bloomington community, Ouedraogo’s Tilaï is available to stream online through IU Libraries’ kanopy service. Tilaï and other works including Kini and Adams, Yam Daabo, and Samba Traoré are available for classroom and research viewing through the Black Film Center/Archive.  Some of the BFC/A holdings related to Ouedraogo from the Josef Gugler African and Middle Eastern Film Collection can be found online here, with additional materials available for research on-site.

~Elijah Pouges


War and the Black Experience: Dissonance, Documentary, Fiction and Home

The Association for the Study of African-American Life and History (ASALH) announced that the 2018 theme of Black History Month is “African Americans in Times of War.

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ASALH stated that the theme “give[s] us cause for critical pause in our studies…to consider the specific and unique issues faced by African Americans in times of war.” While “pausing,” the paradoxical nature of this experience becomes apparent, and brings with it questions of dissonance as it relates to identity and a sense of home.

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The black military experience is one frayed with dissonance, both on the battlefield and upon returning home to the United States. The idea of home is brought into question after being abroad. Toni Morrison’s astonishing 2012 novel, Home, screams of this idea in the form of protagonist Frank Money – black bodies experience newfound autonomy overseas, only to be denied such when returning home. We see this idea displayed across space and time – domestic and CET. Through the use of film, both documentary and (fictionalized) feature, we see the entrance of African-Americans into the canon of military history bestowed a dignity that perhaps only film could allow.

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Filmmaker and documentarian William Miles creates such a space in his Men of Bronze (1977). The film depicts the 369th Infantry Regiment, and their journey fighting alongside French troops during WWI. The documentary style highlights the dissonance felt by black soldiers, after being in Europe then returning home to the United States. In her book Struggles for Representation, Black Film Center/Archives founder Phyllis Klotman emphasizes this idea when referencing an interview that Miles conducted in the film, stating that “Williams, who was wounded… grimly recalls the injuries of racism [at home].”

Liberators: Fighting on Two Fronts in World War II (1992)

A similar sentiment is captured in Miles’s 1992 film, Liberators. In an interview with the New York Times about Miles’s life and the film, Buchenwald survivor Benjamin Bender is quoted praising the black regiment who came to his rescue: “black soldiers of the Third Army, tall and strong… carrying the emaciated bodies of the liberated prisoners.” The documentary form allows for the commemoration of the black soldier as a heroic figure, while also allowing the brutalities of racism upon return to the United States to be described candidly by its survivors.

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Inspired by some of the works of Miles, filmmaker Jacqueline Shearer went on to make The Massachusetts 54th Colored Infantry (1991), a documentary that depicted black soldiers fighting on behalf of the Union, in hopes of carving out a space that they could begin to truly call home. For these individuals, failure was not an option – “any Negro taken in [Union] uniform will be summarily put to death.” The politicized nature of the film shows how vital these black soldiers were to the surrender of the Confederacy.

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The noteworthy narrative film Glory valorizes the 54th Infantry, though it is criticized for failing to focus on the personal and political experience of soldiers as well as romanticizing the battle at Fort Wagner for the sake of driving the narrative. It is through this that the idea of dissonance reappears, not only in the lived experience of the soldiers, but also in the methods through which their stories are told. Documentary and fiction are both useful, but lend themselves to different affective ends.

The nature of war creates dissonance in many cases – young people are sent with nebulous objectives that they may not agree with and asked to fight for their countries. The historicity of the black experience in America would create additional layers to this dissonance. Experiencing autonomy abroad and returning to a racist society has proven to be a situation that makes one question the nature of home. In the case of the earliest black soldiers, freedom had yet to be determined; home was but a construct heavily masked behind the lack of physical autonomy over the body.  Though the concept of home can be nebulous, the use of film allows for us to contemporarily ruminate on the dissonance experienced by these brave individuals.

All the films mentioned can be obtained for screening, teaching and research via collections in the Black Film Center/Archive. Notably open for research is the William Miles Collection, obtained in August 1997. This collection includes long-form interviews that would later be used in Liberators, as well as miscellaneous photographs and a military insignia medal.

~Elijah Pouges

 


Curator Greg de Cuir Jr.: Research notes pt. 5

Visiting Curator Greg de Cuir Jr. is in Bloomington for a week-long research residency at the Black Film Center/Archive and a series of programs concluding with his Show & Tell Workshop at the Auxiliary Library Facility on Friday, Jan. 26. Throughout the week, de Cuir will share notes and photos from his residency with our readers on the BFC/A blog. [Post #1 | Post #2 | Post #3 | Post #4]


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Worked on the flatbed again yesterday. No time to watch full-length features. Just sampled the first reels of three films. Larry Clark’s “Passing Through”, which appears to be among the more visually experimental of the LA School films. Michael Campus’ “The Mack”, which I have never seen on film before. Change the name of the game! Ossie Davis’ “Gordon’s War”, an interesting take on the vigilante subgenre.

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Began digging deep into document files yesterday. It turned into a treasure trove of information on early film festival histories in the United States. Black Film Center/Archive was organizing black film festivals in Indiana at the beginning of the 80s. So was the Blacklight Film Festival in Chicago. There was even a black American film festival in Paris at the beginning of the 80s. But the most tantalizing find was mention of a festival of new Cuban cinema in San Francisco in the 70s. It was the first time a delegation of Cuban filmmakers were granted visas to travel to the United States. Will file all this knowledge away in my brain for further inquiry.

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Must admit that Indiana University is pretty impressive in terms of public research institutions. The Auxiliary Library Facility, a huge archival complex that is soon adding another multi-million dollar building, is the third largest archive space in the United States, after Harvard University and Princeton University/New York Public Library. There are 50,000 undergraduate students here at IU Bloomington. That’s a mind-boggling number. The campus is incredibly beautiful. Very spacious, impressive buildings, creeks and streams, a bumper crop of restaurants from all over the world in downtown B-Town, and a palpable belief in research, researchers, and the material and ideological support they need. Plus many, many talented and passionate academics. I think something special is going on here, and just in advance of their bicentennial. Go Hoosiers!

~Greg de Cuir Jr., Friday, January 26, 2018


Greg de Cuir Jr. is the selector for Alternative Film/Video and Beldocs (both in Belgrade, Serbia). As an independent moving image curator, he has organized programs for the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London; the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw; Los Angeles Filmforum; goEast Wiesbaden; Experiments in Cinema in Albuquerque; and other institutions. He is the managing editor of NECSUS: European Journal of Media Studies and has published writing in Cineaste, Jump Cut, Festivalists, Art Margins, La Furia Umana, Politika, and other journals and volumes. De Cuir received his DPhil from the Faculty of Dramatic Arts at University of Arts Belgrade.


Spring 2018 Grad Assistant opportunity at BFC/A

POSITION ANNOUNCEMENT: SPRING 2018 GRADUATE ASSISTANT, BLACK FILM CENTER/ARCHIVE

The Black Film Center/Archive (BFC/A) seeks candidates for a Spring 2018 Graduate Assistant position beginning January 2018.  This is a student hourly position for ~20-25 hours/week paid at $15/hour.  There is potential to extend the position beyond the Spring 2018 term.

The BFC/A Graduate Assistant will report to the Associate Director and Senior Archivist, and work closely with the Director, archives staff, student hourly staff, and campus partners.  Duties include but are not limited to:

  • Researching and writing content and providing design services for the BFC/A’s blog, newsletter, websites, and print publications;
  • Supporting the planning, promotion, and conduct of the BFC/A’s public events, exhibits, and programs;
  • Assisting with processing of new acquisitions and with management of existing collections;
  • Providing reference assistance and collection access to faculty, students, visiting researchers, and others.

Candidates must be enrolled in a graduate degree program at Indiana University – Bloomington.

Qualifications: Excellent written and verbal communication skills; knowledge of Adobe Creative Cloud design suite and Microsoft Office; ability to work directly and interact courteously with the public and with students, faculty, and staff; ability to maintain collegial working relationships with supervisors and peers in an archive/research center and teaching environment.

Please send a note with CV and writing/design samples to: Brian Graney, BFC/A Associate Director, at bpgraney@indiana.edu.

Applications will be accepted until the position is filled.

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About the Black Film Center/Archive

The BFC/A 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 BFC/A’s mission today encompasses within its scope films of Africa and the Diaspora.

The BFC/A’s primary objectives are to promote scholarship on black film and to serve as an open resource for scholars, researchers, students, and the general public; to curate and exhibit black film, ephemera, and memorabilia; to encourage creative film activity by independent black filmmakers; and to undertake and support research on the history, impact, theory, and aesthetics of black film traditions.

 


Curator Greg de Cuir Jr.: Research notes pt. 4

Visiting Curator Greg de Cuir Jr. is in Bloomington for a week-long research residency at the Black Film Center/Archive and a series of programs concluding with his Show & Tell Workshop at the Auxiliary Library Facility on Friday, Jan. 26. Throughout the week, de Cuir will share notes and photos from his residency with our readers on the BFC/A blog. [Post #1 | Post #2 | Post #3]


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Today was a full day of screening film prints on a brand spanking new flatbed that was easy enough even for me to learn to use. Began with two shorts by Julie Dash. “Four Women” is a breathtaking melange of dance, color, and the haunting melodies of Nina Simone. “Illusions” was a revelation. A story of a mixed race woman with an executive level job in wartime Hollywood. The film shows off a superb level of craft and makes one even more angry that Dash has not had the studio career that she deserves. One of the final lines spoken in the film by the determined woman exec is that “History is what people see on the silver screen.” Rhymes nicely with the quote that ends Cheryl Dunye’s “Watermelon Woman”: “Sometimes you have to make your own history.”

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Finally watched “Killer of Sheep”, but the way I always wanted to — the proper way, on film. Quite simply some of the best combinations of sound and image by a black film artist in the history of American cinema. Who is making work like this today? Does Burnett have no peers or anyone who would lay claim to his legacy? Maybe that question will be answered as I continue my research.

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~Greg de Cuir, Tuesday, January 23, 2018


Greg de Cuir Jr. is the selector for Alternative Film/Video and Beldocs (both in Belgrade, Serbia). As an independent moving image curator, he has organized programs for the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London; the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.; the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw; Los Angeles Filmforum; goEast Wiesbaden; Experiments in Cinema in Albuquerque; and other institutions. He is the managing editor of NECSUS: European Journal of Media Studies and has published writing in Cineaste, Jump Cut, Festivalists, Art Margins, La Furia Umana, Politika, and other journals and volumes. De Cuir received his DPhil from the Faculty of Dramatic Arts at University of Arts Belgrade.

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