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!
2016, China L. Colston, USA, 89 min. With China L. Colston, David Roberts.
The ticking of her biological clock brings Emon (former Chicagoan Colston), a hard-driving executive in line for a big promotion, to a decision not shared by her amiable husband Idreese (Roberts) in this intimate drama. A guilty secret buried in her past and an unspoken trauma lurking in his bring on a crisis, as the future of their seemingly perfect marriage hangs in the balance. Facing unfinished business with former partners and making peace with actions that cannot be undone become the keys to healing. (BS)
Shorts Program: Women of Color
2014-16, Various directors, USA, 84 min.
- Thu, Aug 25th 8:15pm
Courage and resilience characterizes the African American woman in the face of life’s rough spots in these shorts.
2015, Kevin Maxwell, USA, 22 min. With Latarsha Rose, Joe Holt.
Racism and the violence of an abusive marriage pose twin challenges for the woman who owns a Southern town’s only black business in this period drama based on a true story. (BS)
2016, Bryan Willis, USA, 5 min. With Kim Cee.
With a major life choice looming, a woman has a heart-to-heart talk with her conscience. (BS)
2016, Chelsea Woods, USA, 13 min. With April Grace, Jaquita Ta’le.
The fear of not living up to the expectations of her college student daughter propels a depressed mother into a parallel fantasy life. (BS)
Jamaica T. Jones
2014, Nzinga Kadalie Kemp, USA, 19 min. With Janet E. Dandridge, Mtume Gant.
On the advice of her fortuneteller, the feisty heroine attempts to address her anger issues in this colorful comedy. (BS)
Me Too, You
2016, Travis Williams, USA, 15 min. With Tangara Jones, Ria Miller.
A sister searches for her missing sibling among Manhattan’s homeless, and befriends a troubled woman who can’t stop reliving a tragedy from her past. (BS)
2016, Xavier Burgin, USA, 9 min. With Inger Tudor, Araija DaCosta.
The urgency of a job interview presents a single mom with a desperate choice. (BS)
How to Tell You're a Douchebag
2016, Tahir Jetter, USA, 80 min. With Charles Brice, DeWanda Wise.
- Fri, Aug 26th 6:15pm
- Mon, Aug 29th 8:00pm
"Seems to speak to a continually-budding generation of Twitter-philes that are equal parts socially aware and self-obsessed." — Dan Mecca, The Film Stage
"A welcome change of pace compared to the conventional tripe that comes off Hollywood’s assembly line." — Nick Spake, Flickreel
Ray (Brice), 100% player and lightly employed writer of the blog “Occasionally Dating Black Women,” is begging for comeuppance in this snappy romantic comedy with a knack for just desserts. Ray meets his match in Rochelle (Wise), a fellow writer with a high-powered career and a healthy disdain for his bed-hopping ways. Heartlessness and thoughtlessness make for a lethal cocktail when this cocky would-be suitor, one foot in mouth, lets his finger do the talking by hitting “send” too soon, for a viral reaction he’ll live to regret. (BS)
Note: Includes nudity and sexual activity.
2015, Lawrence Lee Wallace, USA, 100 min. With Kimberly Washington, Brian C. Green.
Based on Chicago author April Tylon-Warren’s novel, this complex and passionate coming-of-age story is set entirely on Chicago’s South Side in the Seventies, where the changing fortunes of families and friendships impact the tumultuous life of a young woman. Attractions, jealousies, breakups, and bonding mark the relationships of a close-knit group of neighborhood teens, until Sunshine (Washington) settles down with Josh (Green), but marriage and motherhood bring challenges that include infidelity, mental illness, addiction, and the escalating violence of the streets. (BS)
Spirits of Rebellion: Black Film From UCLA
2016, Zeinabu irene Davis, USA, 100 min.
"Davis’ film is not only deeply informative, but hugely inspiring... cultural amnesia and dedicated erasure can make it seem like resistance has been scant and creativity in the face of staggering obstacles a non-starter. SPIRITS proves just how false those notions are." — Ernest Hardy, Crave
“LA Rebellion” is the name given to the important movement that arose in the Ethno-communications Program at UCLA in the late 1960s and that sought to forge an alternative to Hollywood for filmmakers of color. Director Davis, herself a graduate of the program, provides a lively inside look at the diverse group of filmmakers, teachers, and social-historical factors behind the movement, with illuminating excerpts and interviews from such groundbreaking directors as Charles Burnett, Larry Clark, Julie Dash, Jamaa Fanaka, Haile Gerima, Barbara McCullough, and Bill Woodberry. (MR)
This is a family-friendly film.
1999, Zeinabu irene Davis, USA, 92 min. With John Jelks, Michelle A. Banks.
- Sat, Aug 27th 5:30pm
"A small, quiet, enchanting film about characters who endure and prevail and trust themselves… It makes you feel good." — Roger Ebert, Chicago Sun-Times
"Beautiful and poignant… deserves the chance to reach the widest audience possible." — Kevin Thomas, Los Angeles Times
Two unique African American love stories, each involving a deaf woman and a hearing man, play out in this moving drama. Inspired by a poem written by Paul Laurence Dunbar, the narrative shares their struggle to navigate disability, and overcome racism and discrimination. This important film on African American deaf culture innovatively incorporates silent film techniques such as title cards and vintage photos to make the piece accessible to hearing and deaf viewers alike, and to share the vast possibilities of language and communication. (Description courtesy of Women Make Movies)
Maya Angelou: And Still I Rise
2016, Bob Hercules and Rita Coburn Whack, USA, 114 min.
This film will return in September — CLICK HERE for details
The remarkable, daring, and iconic life of poet, writer, and activist Maya Angelou unfolds in this in-depth portrait, which includes a substantial element of storytelling by the artist herself. Angelou brings the resonant cadences of poetry to narrating an entrancing chronicle of a youth shaped by family upheaval, the racism of a small Arkansas town, and early motherhood, as eventually detailed in her first book "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." Rare footage traces her varied pre-writing career as a nightclub dancer, singer, and star known as “Miss Calypso,” her courage as a political activist, and her transformative friendships with figures including James Baldwin, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. Interviews include Oprah Winfrey, Common, Alfre Woodard, Cicely Tyson, Quincy Jones, and Angelou’s son Guy Johnson. (BS)
This is a family-friendly film.
Saving Barbara Sizemore
2016, David J. Steiner, USA, 83 min.
- Sun, Aug 28th 3:00pm
- Wed, Aug 31st 6:00pm
The Betty Shabazz-Barbara A. Sizemore Academy has been called "an urban village, an oasis in the heart of Englewood." In 2015, it was one of four charter schools put on the chopping block by Chicago Public Schools. The school fought back, and teacher/filmmaker Steiner captured the struggle in this engaging, persuasive film, which conveys the school's unique family atmosphere and emphasis on African culture, while documenting its enlistment of high-profile supporters such as Richard Steele and Cornell West, and its deployment of a delegation in a Michael Moore-style crashing of the CPS headquarters. (MR)
This is a family-friendly film.
To Sleep With Anger
1990, Charles Burnett, USA, 102 min. With Danny Glover, Paul Butler.
"A very entertaining, complex film." — Vincent Canby, The New York Times
"Burnett's acute and sensitive direction is free of hackneyed movie conventions; even something as simple as a hello is said differently from the way you've heard it in any other movie." — Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader
Featured in SPRITS OF REBELLION (playing August 27), Charles Burnett was one of the major figures associated with the UCLA-based "LA Rebellion" group. This dark, semi-mystical comedy was too offbeat and unpredictable to succeed at the box office, but its reputation has soared over the years. Danny Glover delivers a sensational performance as Harry Mention, a folkloric Trickster who insinuates himself into a middle-class South Central household and proceeds to spread discord, doubt, and disease. Is he human or demon? And how can his hosts get rid of him? New 4K DCP digital restoration courtesy of Sony Pictures Entertainment. (MR)
Agents of Change: Black Students and the Transformation of the American University
2016, Frank Dawson and Abby Ginzberg, USA, 66 min
"The film’s characters were caught at the crossroads of the civil rights, black power, and anti-Vietnam war movements at a pivotal time in America’s history." — Sojourner Truth Radio
The little-known story of the late-Sixties grassroots struggle that led to the creation of departments of black and ethnic studies at American colleges and universities is told in this documentary focusing on the seminal student revolts at San Francisco State and Cornell. Black students recruited by institutions of higher learning in unprecedented numbers soon found their history and culture reflected nowhere on all-white campuses. Protests and sit-ins evolved into violent armed revolution that startled the nation with images of black students with guns. Filmmakers Dawson and Ginzberg combine the first-person recollections of those who were there with powerful archival footage and photographs for a compelling evocation of history. Winner of Jury and Audience awards at the 2016 Pan-African Film Festival. (BS)