Tag Archives: IU Cinema

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.


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:


Tanya Valette presents DR shorts at IU Cinema

Earlier this semester the BFC/A presented “Roots/Routes: Contemporary Caribbean Cinema” at the IU Cinema. This weekend Bloomington audiences will have another opportunity to appreciate the dynamism of filmmaking in the region with Saturday’s Dominican short film program during the Latino Film Festival and Conference. Tanya Valette, currently the artistic director and head of programming at the IBAFF International Film Festival in Murcia, Spain, curated the program. As one of the first generation of students at Cuba’s renowned International School of Cinema and Television in San Antonio de los Baños (EICTV)–who later became the school’s seventh director–Valette has over two decades of experience making and promoting films in and of the Caribbean. The BFC/A recently had the opportunity to interview her over email. The following is an condensed version of the interview, edited for clarity.

Tanya Valette (Photo: Nicolás Ordóñez Carrillo)

Tanya Valette (Photo: Nicolás Ordóñez Carrillo)

BFC/A: Increasingly the Dominican Republic is making itself known internationally in the realm of filmmaking.  Could you tell us about the burgeoning Dominican film scene?  And how do you see your role with DGCINE (Dirección General de Cine República Dominicana, the Dominican Republic’s film commission)?

Tanya Valette: Since a bit more than a decade, the Dominican Republic has been taking steps towards the consolidation of a national cinema, which has a lot to do with the fact that many filmmakers are being trained outside and inside the country. This has made it possible for movies to be put together in a much better way, creatively and technically speaking, with stories that are built better and anchored deeper in our reality.

The Dominican public supports local production, which has given confidence to private investors. The other important factor in this development is the political will, from the presidency of the country, to create DGCINE and the establishment of Law 108-10, which promotes cinematic activities in the Dominican Republic. This law was first put into practice two years ago and has made possible the organization of an independent national industry. One of the big benefits brought by the law is funding dedicated to stimulate local projects, in the various steps of their production. Thus we can develop these projects, mentor filmmakers and later have the ability to enter coproduction markets, etc.

My role as an advisor at DGCINE is intended to leverage my academic experience and training in the audiovisual field, as well as my international contacts, especially from Europe.

BFC/A: You have a background as a film director as well as a producer.  How did you get started in filmmaking?

TV: My beginnings in this profession originated in cinephilia, which was transmitted by my mom, who took my brother and me by the hand to go the movie theaters in our neighborhood. While I was a student at university, studying cinema was practically an impossible dream, until the International School of Cinema and Television appeared in San Antonio de los Baños, Cuba. I am part of its first generation of students.

That complete immersion in movies, with the best professors from the region, Europe, and even the USA (Francis Ford Coppola was one of them), trained me in such a comprehensive way for the profession that I felt the need to pass on what I had learned. That’s the reason why I’ve been involved in training and education since then.

BFC/A: This is a follow-up question…do you see a difference in the temperament (and/or training) needed to pursue the production side of filmmaking — raising money, handling logistics, etc — and the artistic side?  Or are these two intertwined?  What is your approach to making films?

TV: Every day it becomes more necessary that filmmakers get involved in the development process of their projects, just as it is impossible to be considered a good producer when one is not creative. To build a project, to make it into a good movie and make it so it’s seen at film festivals all around the world and has a good distribution, requires a group effort between director and producer. This year, IU’s Latino Film Festival will host Laura Amelia Guzmán and Israel Cárdenas, the directors and producers of Jean Gentil and other feature films. [Jean Gentil (2010) will screen at the IU Cinema on Saturday, April 5 at 4:30 p.m. Guzmán and Cárdenas are scheduled to answer questions after the film. They will also participate in a panel on migrations within Dominican filmmaking on Saturday, April 5 at 9:30 a.m.]

This is a model I defend and that I try to stimulate whenever I have the chance. It is important to remember that we are talking about art films. There is a will to be successful in reaching a large audience. This can accomplished within the framework of an industry that is respectful of each movie as a unique process that will entail its own production strategies.

BFC/A: The theme of this year’s Latino Film Festival and Conference is “Transnational Lives.”  You also serve as an analyst for the Ibermedia Program. What can you tell us about Ibermedia and its transnational approach to coproduction to connect Europe with Latin America and the Caribbean.  Does this transnational approach also apply to existing/possible distribution models?

TV: The Ibermedia Program is part of an agreement between the member countries of the Ibero-American Summit of Heads of the State. Their main purpose is to encourage the coproduction between countries in the region, thus stimulating the development of national film industries, and creating funding and an audiovisual space that would preserve cultural specificities of each country. For that matter, it wouldn’t be considered a transnational concept, since it doesn’t try to globalize stories, forms, or ways of storytelling. It isn’t trying to impose a model.

Distribution and exhibition are the big issues that need to be solved. We can never stop looking for new alternatives so that our movies can reach viewers from all around the world – and this includes audiences in our own countries.

[For more on the Ibermedia Program, see Tamara L. Falicov’s comprehensive essay here.]

BFC/A: You’ve curated a great lineup of shorts that will screen at the festival.  How did you come up with this program?  And could you tell us about your other experiences in film programming?

TV: When the festival proposed that I curate a series, I saw it as a challenge. I had to build a program of Dominican short films that lasted at most an hour and a half. I wanted to curate an exhibition that would be both representative and of quality. I had to articulate both of these coherently, knowing that it would be impossible not to end up leaving some important works aside. The history of our national cinema started with a short film, in the 1960’s. Production since then has been constant, even though we cannot talk of significant numbers. Most of the short films in the program were made by students who graduated from film schools in our country and abroad. Some of them already have an important body of work, as in the case of Leticia Tonos. [Tonos’ 2010 feature debut, La hija natural / Love Child, was part of the Roots/Routes series. Her most recent feature, Cristo Rey (2013), premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival.] We’ll see her graduation project, the short film, Ysrael, which is an adaptation of Junot Díaz’s short story of the same name.

My experience as a programmer has been very rewarding and has widened my perspectives, by incorporating many diverse ways to make cinema. I am always looking for a vision, a way to take up a stance before what’s been shown, a personal writing, the author’s risk and honesty. Something that moves me without often knowing why.

BFC/A: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

TV: It’ll be a pleasure to discover this festival and the reactions of the audience before our cinema. I am very grateful for the opportunity that has been given to us.

The Dominican shorts program screens this Saturday, April 5 at 10:30 a.m. at the IU Cinema. You can find more information about the 2014 Latino Film Festival and Conference here and here.

~Nzingha Kendall

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)

venus vs still

(courtesy ESPN Films)

Middle of Nowhere (2012)

middle of nowhere still

I Will Follow (2011)

(courtesy AFFRM)

(courtesy AFFRM)

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)

this is the life still

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

The Lost Films of Kathleen Collins: U.S. Theatrical Premiere at the IU Cinema

To mark the recent restoration of Kathleen Collins’s rarely seen feature films, the Black Film Center/Archive is co-sponsoring a special screening of Losing Ground and The Cruz Brothers and Miss Malloy; this is the U.S. theatrical premiere of both restorations.  The double header will show tonight, Thursday, March 21 at 7:00 pm at the IU Cinema.  Prof. LaMonda Horton-Stallings, who wrote a critical essay on Losing Ground for Black Camera in 2011, will lead a Q+A session at the conclusion of the screening.

losing ground still

Sara (played by Seret Scott) in Losing Ground (1982)

Collins was a truly multi-talented woman.  In addition to independently producing, writing and directing films, she also had extensive experience as a film editor.   Moreover, Collins wrote plays, helped to create the film studies program at City College of New York, studied literature, film and philosophy in Paris at the Sorbonne, and translated for Cahiers du Cinéma.  Sadly, in 1988 she passed away from cancer at the relatively young age of 46.

BFC/A founder Phyllis Klotman invited Collins to IU a few times in the early 1980s.  Collins presented Losing Ground in 1983, and later returned to campus to teach a seminar on film production and film aesthetics.  In a fascinating interview conducted by Klotman, Collins revealed her fiercely independent spirit, seen here in her reasoning for turning down a lucrative job as a producer at a major TV network:

…I did consciously turn that job down.  I did say that I don’t really feel that whatever creative work that is going to come out of me will come out successfully if I have to work off other people’s formulas…[E]ven if I made that decision [to accept the TV network job], I might presumably be producing…television drama, [but] I don’t think I would have ever gotten the chance to direct at all; I would have never gotten the chance to write my own scripts.  I don’t think that other avenues would have been open to do any of the films I’ve done at all.  I don’t think anyone would have bought those ideas and said, “This is terrific!”  And so to that degree I consider it a necessity that I do it independently.  And I can’t imagine ever veering from that.*

In addition to the aforementioned interview, the BFC/A holds a number of significant research and archival materials related to Collins, including a 16mm print of Losing Ground and a video-recording of Collins interviewed by a local Indiana PBS show.  Of particular note is the John Williams collection.  Williams, film scholar and former publicist for the Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, recently donated copies of Collins’s written work (essays, scripts and translations), reviews and film festival program notes–amongst other research materials.

“The Lost Films of Kathleen Collins” is part of the “New Restorations from Milestone Films” series at the IU Cinema.  Friday evening will feature the newly-restored print of Shirley Clarke’s Portrait of Jason at 6:30 pm.  Dennis Doros, president of Milestone Films, will give the Jorgensen Lecture earlier on Friday afternoon at 3:00 pm.

Losing Ground

The entire series is sponsored by the BFC/A, the Department of Communication and Culture, UNDERGROUND Film Series, IU Libraries Film Archives and IU Cinema.

More about Kathleen Collins:

Black Film Review’s special tribute to Collins

John Williams’s Cineaste essay on Collins and Julie Dash

New York Times obituary

* This quote is taken from a transcribed interview between Kathleen Collins and Phyllis Klotman that is part of the BFC/A’s research materials on Collins.

~ Nzingha Kendall

‘Confronting the Other’ with Claire Denis at Indiana University

Confronting the Other, an exploration of Claire Denis’s work as a filmmaker to engage with various manifestations of Otherness, will be hosted at Indiana University and will feature a visit and conversation with Claire Denis, seven film screenings, and a poster exhibition at the BFC/A featuring posters of Denis’s films.

Chocolat, I Can’t Sleep, Nenette and Boni, The Intruder, Beau Travail, Trouble Every Day, and  White Material will all be screened between November 3rd and 11th at the IU Cinema (full schedule and details here).  “An Evening with Claire Denis” – a conversation with the filmmaker – will take place on Saturday, November 10th at 7:00pm, and Denis will be present for the screenings of Beau Travail, Trouble Every Day, and White Material.

Denis has become well known for her style of unapologetically tackling the implications the Self/Other binaries, particularly in the context of postcolonialism.  From the abstract of “Claire Denis’ Films and the Post-colonial Body” by Susan Hayward:

Claire Denis is one of the few major French contemporary filmmakers whose films to date represent an attempt to forefront the effects of colonialism and post-colonialism on the psyche of both the colonised and coloniser. Her films reflect the complexities of addressing these effects not least because there is no essential colonial or post-colonial body. Rather, in her work, she reveals the multiplicities of the colonial and post-colonial body.

The poster exhibit for Confronting the Other – running from November 5th to December 14th at the BFC/A – will “foreground the organizing thematic” of Denis’s work.  Below are the film posters for Chocolat and White Material, followed by some comments and queries by BFC/A director Michael Martin:

Enigmatic, like that of Chocolat, [the poster for White Material] is, too, unsettling,intimating displacement, although seemingly of a different kind, inviting audiences—western? White? Female? Metropolitan?—to consider why?  In the background, devoid of people beneath the forest canopy and expanse, the protagonist in the foreground whose distress is palpable, is pictured at the epicenter of the frame for which we have no identifiable signs to ponder her circumstance, indeed fate. Yet, like the poster of Chocolat, it evokes the image of “a stranger in a strange land”. Is the female character in Chocolat the same character—fast forward—in White Material?  Is the autobiographical the subtext of this film as it is in Chocolat? And is the character fixed or transient in time and space?

Here, the posters for 35 Rhums (35 Shots of Rum), and for Beau Travail (Good Work):

Confronting the Other is sponsored by the BFC/A, the Department of Communication and Culture, Department of French and Italian, and IU Cinema, with thanks to Institut français, Unifrance, Cultural Services of the French Embassy, Jean François Rochard and Delhpnie Selles.

While Denis is on campus, Martin will also interview her; the interview will appear in an upcoming issue of Black Camera.

For now, if you’d like more Denis, here’s a great profile by Andrew Hussey for The Observer, along with a short clip of Denis discussing White Material along with clips from the film.

~ Jonathan Jenner

Home Movie Day 2012 at Indiana University

Home Movie Day is back at Indiana University, and it’s going to be great.  On Saturday, October 20th, starting at 3pm, the IU Cinema will screen home movies that members of the public bring in.  The event, which supports films in 8mm, Super8, 16mm, VHS or DVD formats, will include discussion with home movie owners, the viewing public, and trained specialists (for those who plan to bring in home movies, the doors open at 2pm to talk with the film specialists about your prints).

Image from “Menzies Family Christmas,” 1967, New York City, New York. Source: Alfred M. Menzies.
From the DVD Living Room Cinema: Films from Home Movie Day, Vol. 1.

Home Movie Day began in 2003 as the brainchild of archivists at the Center for Home Movies to promote the showing and preservation of home movies; today, Home Movie Day is celebrated at over 100 venues in 17 countries across 5 continents.  If you’re not one of the lucky ones in Indiana this weekend, here’s a list of other venues for Home Movie Day.  And below, a trailer for this year’s event.

We’ve written before about Home Movie Day and home movies made by and featuring African-Americans, such as the films made by Ernest Beane and the Solomon Sir Jones Collection (some of which will be shown at IU’s event this year, courtesy of Yale University).

Of particular interest this year will be a contribution from our guest, Kelli Shay Hix, Curator of Moving Images at the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee. Kelli will be presenting the big-screen premiere of CMHFM’s recent preservation of home movies from WLAC Nashville radio staff in the studio in 1949.  The film captures this prominent Nashville station at a moment when their programming began its shift from country-style fare towards a focus on emerging black rhythm and blues artists in the 1950s.  Kelli writes of their early broadcasts in this format:

The shows were soon a hit, not only with African-American listeners, and not only with adult audiences, but with teenagers and adults from many backgrounds…Through the medium of radio, it was nearly impossible to guess the race of the DJs (none were African-American), which may have aided in the shows’ crossing of racial lines and generational lines, and which brought a new and controversial music to communities it had never gone before…These late night broadcasts are credited with jump-starting the careers of Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, James Brow, and Little Richard, and for helping to sow the seeds of the fusion that would become rock and roll.

Until Saturday, we’ll leave you with another trailer–this one for Día del cine casero from La Cineteca Nacional de México:

‘Maestra’ at the IU Cinema

Maestra, a 2011 documentary by Catherine Murphy, will be shown at the IU Cinema on October 8th, at 7pm. From the IU Cinema homepage:

In 1960, Cuba made an open call for volunteer teachers for the Cuban Literacy Campaign. Over 250,000 people volunteered, including thousands of very young women who achieved a degree of independence virtually unknown by Cuban women at the time. Maestra explores the stories of eight of these women and we see how the experience changed their lives, and the lives of others.

Murphy will be present at the screening, and BFC/A Director Michael Martin will moderate a panel discussion after the film.  Below, the trailer:

The film is part of the CUBAmistad Series at IU, which celebrates Cuban art and film, and of which the BFC/A is a sponsor.  CUBAmistad is a program of the City of Bloomington (Indiana) and Santa Clara (Cuba); the two are sister-cities. Juan of the Dead, a horror/comedy, will be the next film in the series on October 29th.  All screenings are free, but ticketed.