Black Harvest Film Festival 2016
August 5 - September 1
From August 5 through September 1, the Gene Siskel Film Center presents the 22nd Annual Black Harvest Film Festival, celebrating the best in contemporary independent filmmaking exploring the stories, images, heritage, and history of the black experience in the U.S. and around the world. Encounters with filmmakers are the festival’s pride and joy, and this year we present more filmmaker appearances than ever, with more than forty scheduled as we go to press.
The big 22 calls for a double-whammy opening, and we’ve got ‘em for you! On Friday, August 5, join us for ACTIVATE’s pre-opening street party SEE, followed by a celebratory 9:30 pm screening of PURPLE RAIN.
On Saturday, August 6, NBC 5 Chicago’s LeeAnn Trotter MCs A Black Harvest Feast with special guests and an exciting homecoming reunion of "Black Harvest" filmmakers past and present. Immediately after the show, the audience is invited to a reception across the street at the Joffrey Ballet studios.
Our September 1 closing night features directors Frank Dawson and Abby Ginzberg with their provocative documentary AGENTS OF CHANGE, on the transformative effects of black student activism in the Sixties and Seventies. The closing night party, sponsored by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, follows the screening.
All films are eligible for the Black Harvest Audience Award; ballots available in our lobby. Be sure to check back for added appearances and special events.
Feature films with a Chicago connection are prominent in the schedule. MAYA ANGELOU: AND STILL I RISE, the long-awaited in-depth profile of the great African American poet and activist by Chicagoans Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn-Whack premieres on August 27, as a festival preview prior to our September theatrical run of the film. Former Chicagoan Seckeita Lewis returns to her hometown with the audacious Civil Rights-era comedy JERICO, with a personal appearance by actress Irma P. Hall.
Features shot in and around Chicago include: SUNSHINE DAY and THIS IS NOT CHIRAQ, both directed by Lawrence Lee Wallace; WALK ALL NIGHT: A DRUM BEAT JOURNEY by Mallory Sohmer and Kate Benzschawel; and David Steiner’s SAVING BARBARA SIZEMORE. Tod Lending’s ALL THE DIFFERENCE follows two young men pursuing dreams of college against formidable odds.
We have music! Screenings of TEAR THE ROOF OFF: THE UNTOLD STORY OF PARLIAMENT FUNKADELIC (August 12 and 13) feature personal appearances by some of the iconic band’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame musicians. THE CAGED BIRD: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF FLORENCE B. PRICE tells the little-known story of a composer with a Chicago connection. Chicago radio host and music critic Richard Steele will be honored with the Gene Siskel Film Center’s Legacy Award at the August 17 screening of SOUND OF REDEMPTION: THE FRANK MORGAN STORY.
The challenges of love and marriage are seen through a unique lens in DARK SEED by China L Colston, another former Chicagoan; in Crosby Tatum’s CONFUSED…BY LOVE; and in LOVE ISN’T ENOUGH by Saquan Jones and Erin Ryan. An aggressive hunt for love gets the comic treatment in Tahir Jetter’s HOW TO TELL YOU’RE A DOUCHEBAG.
GORDON PARKS ELEMENTARY, the new documentary by Black Harvest alum and writer of Spike Lee’s CHI-RAQ, Kevin Willmott, premieres on August 14. CLASS DIVIDE, a gripping look at the fallout from gentrification in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood screens as a Movie Club program courtesy of HBO Documentary Films on August 23. On August 27, we welcome back to Chicago Zeinabu irene Davis, one of the founding advisors to Black Harvest, to premiere SPIRITS OF REBELLION: BLACK FILM FROM UCLA. Also screening that weekend are Davis’s 1999 film COMPENSATION, and a new digital restoration of Charles Burnett’s TO SLEEP WITH ANGER.— Barbara Scharres, Director of Programming
The Black Harvest Film Festival is supported by the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency, and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Special thanks to festival consultant Sergio Mims, our Black Harvest Community Council, and to the many filmmakers who help make this festival possible.
FESTIVAL PARTNERS: DuSable Museum, Chicago Reader, WVON 1690 AM, CIMMFest, Midwest Independent Film Festival, The South Shore Current
Purchase a Black Harvest festival pass!
Six movies for less than the price of five, plus a free small popcorn with each film. Turn in your pass at the end of the festival for a $5 discount on a Gene Siskel Film Center membership. A $92 value for $55!
Gordon Parks Elementary
2015, Kevin Willmott, USA, 57 min.
BHFF veteran (DESTINATION PLANET NEGRO, JAYHAWKERS) and CHI-RAQ screenwriter Willmott turns a documentary eye on his native Kansas City to explore a crisis situation that is becoming all too common in urban schools. Gordon Parks Elementary School, which serves some of the city's most disadvantaged children, finds itself facing closure because of low test scores. Willmott's intimate portrayal of the school's dynamic principal, dedicated teachers, and challenge-overcoming students (as one educator notes, "Can you imagine your kid doing his homework if he lived in a car?") raises wide-ranging questions about over-reliance on standardized testing and the politicization of education. (MR)
This is a family-friendly film.
Walk All Night: A Drum Beat Journey
2016, Mallory Sohmer and Kate Benzschawel, USA, 86 min
THE MONDAY AUGUST 15 SCREENING HAS SOLD OUT!
A musical pilgrimage to Senegal illuminates links to their Africa heritage for four Chicago youths, but it also uncovers complex and troubling issues that were not anticipated when filming of this documentary began. Social worker Elilta Tewelde, herself an Eritrean refugee, becomes fascinated by the bucket drummers whom she sees performing on the streets of Chicago’s South Side. She crowd-funds a project to take four teenage drummers on a trip to Senegal to study under master percussionist/griot Medoune Gueye (aka Papa Dame). But the cultural gulf between South Side and West Africa is not so easily crossed, and conflicts arise among Tewelde, the four boys, and their Senegalese hosts. (MR)
Love Isn't Enough
2016, Saquan Jones and Erin Ryan, USA, 73 min. With Ashley Bloom, Shadner Ifrene.
An interracial marriage undergoes a trial by fire when a dispute over the Thanksgiving turkey precipitates an emotional look at the very roots of the relationship. In order to achieve cultural veracity, the biracial production team divided responsibilities, with Jones directing Charles (Ifrene), the African American husband, and Ryan directing Amanda (Bloom), his Caucasian wife. Flashbacks point up the sexual chemistry that underlies the couple’s love, but glaring cultural differences come into play, sometimes humorously, when friends and family enter the equation, and a toddler son begs the question of identity anew. (BS)
Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story
2015, N.C. Heikin, USA, 84 min.
"A fond and forgiving tribute to the man, filled with music that moves beyond happy and sad, and toward something like brilliance." — Ken Jaworowski, The New York Times
"Spotlights the sublime beauty of Morgan's art without flinching from darker narratives." — Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune
For a good portion of the 1960s and 1970s, the man often described as “the greatest living alto sax player” could be heard only if you journeyed to San Quentin to attend one of the legendary concerts by the prison’s all-star jazz band. Prodigiously talented Frank Morgan (who died in 2007) was inspired by the great Charlie Parker, but that inspiration included emulating Parker’s heroin habit, which led to a criminal career ranging from burglary to bank robbery. This candid, moving documentary covers the highs and lows of Morgan’s life (including a remarkable late-life comeback), framed by a tribute concert performed at San Quentin by such admirers as Delfeayo Marsalis, Ron Carter, and Morgan protégé Grace Kelly, whose soaring, heartbreaking rendition of “Over the Rainbow” captures the mixture of triumph and regret that marked a difficult life. (MR)
Shorts Program: We Are Family
2015-16, Various directors, USA/UK, 92 min.
- Thu, Aug 18th 8:15pm
The power of family to divide or to make whole is at the center of these shorts.
The Good Son
2015, Tomisin Adepeju, UK, 14 min. With Gbolahan Obisesan, Grace Fitzgerald.
Traditionally minded parents lurch into crisis mode when their London-born only son’s secret girlfriend unexpectedly comes calling. In Yoruba and English with English subtitles. (BS)
2015, Nicholas Pilarski & Destini Riley, USA, 14 min.
A young girl struggles to come to terms with the baffling cruelty of the world in light of her brother’s incarceration in this sensitive hand-drawn animation. (BS)
2016, Jake Hull, USA, 11 min. With John Beasley, TammyRa’ Jackson.
An uninvited guest shakes the world of a man who refuses to acknowledge the purpose of her visit. (BS)
Shade of Music
2015, D. Mitry, USA, 27 min. With Malcolm J. West, William Michael Paul.
Two feuding neighbors with opposing tastes in music find an unexpected cure for loneliness when adversity strikes one of them. (BS)
2015, Richard Turke, USA, 26 min. With Harrison Page, Donzaleigh Abernathy.
A broken TV raises the curtain on new drama for an elderly widower set in his ways. (BS)
Shorts Program: Love African American Style
2014-16, Various directors, USA/Canada, 92 min.
- Fri, Aug 19th 6:00pm
- Sat, Aug 20th 8:30pm
Love, our universal obsession, is seen for better and for worse in these shorts.
2015, Gian Smith, USA, 15 min. With Gian Smith, Canae White.
A married professor looking for clandestine action meets his match in an understanding student who is more than she seems. (BS)
2016, Nicholas Payne Santos, USA, 8 min. With Amir Royale, Emma Hedrick.
Teen lovers meet for a tryst in the woods and test their bond in a risky game. (BS)
2015, Alaina L. Lewis, USA, 13 min. With K.D. Comeaux, Lamar Barnes.
Allergies comically alter the scenario of a much-anticipated blind date. (BS)
2015, Maxime Gilbert, Canada, 3 min. With Francesca Gosselin, Anaïs Damphousse Joly.
There’s a price to pay for speaking one’s mind in this humorous take on the in-law problem. In French with English subtitles. (BS)
In Black & White
2016, Dana Verde, USA, 20 min. With Kajuana S. Marie, Marishka Phillips.
Semantics are on the menu when an interracial couple’s celebratory dinner party gets heated. (BS)
The Last New Year
2015, Natasha Parker, USA, 15 min. With N.K. Gutiérrez, Adrienne Walker.
Fatal attraction takes on a new meaning in this raunchy girl-talk look at preparations for a date. (BS)
A 3rd First
2016, William Adams, USA, 10 min. With Conchedia De Pratto, Lawrence E. Johnson Jr.
A young lady proposes some unusual activities on the first date. (BS)
2014, Laila Petrone, USA, 8 min. With Deji LaRay, Zara Durrani.
An air of forbidden romance and danger makes a hot assignation all the sweeter for a married man. (BS)
This Is Not Chiraq
2015, Lawrence Lee Wallace and The SpinArtist, USA, 70 min. With Eric Lane, José Santiago, Simeon Henderson.
- Fri, Aug 19th 8:30pm
- Wed, Aug 24th 8:30pm
Chicago becomes a battleground for two gangs looking to dominate the streets in this series pilot that aims to portray a more complex human reality than the controversial CHI-RAQ. “We are living what Spike Lee is trying to sell with his story,” says writer/producer William Pierce. Just home from prison, Marshawn Adams (Lane), the youngest son of a pastor and brother to a police officer (Henderson), signals a new era for the Black Hustlers, a gang in direct conflict with drug-dealing matriarch Kika, whose son Diablo (Santiago) heads the Spanish Angels. The film was shot entirely on Chicago’s South Side with a team combining local acting talent, recent film school grads, and gang members. DCP digital. (BS)
2016, Seckeita Lewis, USA, 98 min. With Brandon Lewis, Anthony Fort, Irma P. Hall.
Set in the Jim Crow South, in a small Mississippi town, and bursting with goofy musical numbers and slapstick, JERICO, the first feature by former Chicagoan Lewis, takes the daring step of creating high comedy from the darker and more violent aspects of segregation. A Klan action over an African American man’s bid for promotion at work leaves a family legacy that the next generation is forced to reckon with on the very day the Civil Rights Act passes. Crazy chases, ruses, redneck villains, romantic missteps, and a black man in white face all keep this plot humming, as two guys just trying to get to work become unintentional heroes on that fateful 1964 morning. (BS)
The Caged Bird: The Life and Music of Florence B. Price
2015, James Greeson, USA, 57 min.
This absorbing documentary examines the remarkable life and work of Florence Price, who incorporated spirituals, Juba dances, and other vernacular sources into the classical tradition in the course of a prolific composing career, becoming the first African American woman whose work was performed by a major orchestra. Price established herself as a musical prodigy in Arkansas, until lynchings motivated a relocation to Chicago in 1927. There she became a key figure in the Chicago Black Renaissance, collaborating with the likes of Langston Hughes, Katherine Dunham, and, especially, Marian Anderson, who performed Price's "My Soul's Been Anchored in de Lord" at the climax of her historic 1939 Lincoln Memorial concert. (MR)
This is a family-friendly film.
2016, Marc Levin, USA, 74 min.
- Tue, Aug 23rd 6:00pm
"Puts a human face on the issue of income equality … compelling viewing." — Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter
"There are no villains here, and everyone gets a say." — Daniel M. Gold, The New York Times
The high price of gentrification is examined in this gripping profile of one intersection in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. On one side of the street, a stone’s throw from the popular High Line, lies an aging public housing project packed with black and Latino families of the working poor. On the other side stands a brand new elite pre-K-12 private school flanked by condos with “bargain” price tags circa ten million. Filmmaker Levin (HARD TIMES: LOST ON LONG ISLAND) focuses on the kids on both sides of the divide, but also listens to parents, teachers, developers, newcomers, and longtime residents of the area, for a complex portrait of classism and urban evolution. Special advance screening courtesy of HBO Documentary Films. (BS)