Black Harvest Film Festival 2017
August 5 - 31, 2017
From August 5 through 31, the Gene Siskel Film Center presents the 23rd Annual Black Harvest Film Festival, a vibrant month-long celebration of independent films that tell the stories and explore the images, heritage, and history of the worldwide black experience. Join us for in-depth post-film encounters with filmmakers, as more directors, writers, production personnel, and cast members than ever appear for audience discussion.
The festival opens on Saturday, August 5, with the enticing shorts program "A Black Harvest Feast." Felicia Middlebrooks of WBBM/CBS and Christian Farr of NBC 5 Chicago host a show that includes presentation of the Deloris Jordan Award for Excellence in Community Leadership to Donnie Smith and Che “Rhymefest” Smith. Immediately after the show, the audience is invited to a reception across the street at the Joffrey Ballet studios.
Our closing night on Thursday, August 31, is a celebration of the twentieth anniversary of love jones starring Larenz Tate and Nia Long, a Chicago-made romantic comedy-drama. Our screening of an archival 35mm print from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences includes a personal appearance by director Theodore Witcher, a graduate of Columbia College Chicago.
All films are eligible for the Black Harvest Audience Award; ballots available in our lobby. Be sure to regularly check back for added appearances and special events.
More than forty filmmaker appearances are scheduled as we go to press, with more pending. Special events include the presentation of the Gene Siskel Film Center Legacy Award at the August 6 screening of TELL THEM WE ARE RISING to Margaret Caples, executive director of the Community Film Workshop and co-founder of Diverse Voices in Docs. Legendary animator Floyd Norman, the first African American artist hired by Disney, conducts a must-see Master Class on August 26, prior to a screening of the documentary FLOYD NORMAN: AN ANIMATED LIFE, at which he also appears for Q&A with director Michael Fiore.
Features shot in Chicago include comedy-dramas THE BEST THING! by Kyle T. Miller and CALL CENTER by Anton Deshawn. Politics, community issues, and activism on Chicago’s South Side are the vital subjects explored in THE CHICAGO WAY by Donald Washington and BLUEPRINT FOR BRONZEVILLE by Tristan Hanson and Arlen Parsa.
Social issues and activism past and present on a national stage are seen in Stanley Nelson’s TELL THEM WE ARE RISING, Christopher Everett’s WILMINGTON ON FIRE, and Jonathan Olshefski’s QUEST. Renowned screenwriter and producer-director John Ridley appears on August 12 with the screening of LET IT FALL: LOS ANGELES 1982-1992.
Art and artists are featured in films including FLOYD NORMAN: AN ANIMATED LIFE, as well as Richard Kane’s I KNOW A MAN…ASHLEY BRYAN, a profile of the children’s author, illustrator, and puppeteer. An intimate look at the work of writer and performance artist Okwui Okpokwasili is seen in Andrew Rossi’s BRONX GOTHIC. Films with a unique perspective on the music world include Nick Broomfield’s WHITNEY: CAN I BE ME, covering the meteoric career and tragic death of Whitney Houston, and Michael Rubenstone’s ON THE SLY: IN SEARCH OF THE FAMILY STONE.
This year’s selection includes provocative thrillers and dramas, all with filmmakers in person: Desmond Faison’s character-driven KILLING LAZARUS; Michael Sean Hall’s sci-fi-inflected 90 MINUTES OF THE FEVER; and Nicole Franklin’s TITLE VII, a tension-filled drama about corporate same-race discrimination. We have romance: Toni Parker’s THE RHYTHM IN BLUE and Tangi Miller’s DIVA DIARIES, both with filmmakers in person. The legacy of basketball coach and Civil Rights pioneer John McLendon is explored in the documentary FAST BREAK by Kevin Willmott, screenwriter of Spike Lee’s CHI-RAQ.
On August 19, "Action! The Real Deal About Filmmaking," this year’s edition of the ever-popular "Black Harvest" panel and DIY workshop, will cover every aspect of production and feature down-to-earth advice and practical information from our guest producers and directors. The August 27 presentation "The Realities of Screenwriting" will provide valuable tips.— Barbara Scharres, Director of Programming
FF indicates a family-friendly film.
The "Black Harvest Film Festival" is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts; the Illinois Arts Council, a state agency; and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Special thanks to the Illinois Film Office, Saltshaker Productions, LLC, festival consultant Sergio Mims, our Black Harvest Community Council, and the many filmmakers who help make this festival possible.
Purchase a Black Harvest festival pass!
ACTIVATE returns with Network: Pulsing with Power
Thursday, August 24 from 5 PM to 10 PM
Chicago Loop Alliance launches its third ACTIVATE event of the year with Network: Pulsing with Power, taking place at Couch Place (the alley that runs along the north side of the Gene Siskel Film Center). The Chicago Loop Alliance and the Gene Siskel Fim Center have jointly commissioned a short film that bridges the Black Harvest Film Festival and ACTIVATE. D’Tura Hale directed the film, MY SANCTUARY, which will be screened at the event.
Guests who RSVP in advance will receive a complimentary drink ticket for beer, wine, or cocktail at the event.
Shorts Program: Made in Chicago I
2015-17, Various directors, USA, 83 min.
- Sun, Aug 13th 5:15pm
- Wed, Aug 16th 8:30pm
Seven films featuring Chicago talent:
A New Day in the Chi
2017, Austin Julian Davis, USA, 3 min.
A stirring ode to our city, written by OM3 and read by Common. (MR)
Just Chill: A Documentary Portrait of Artist Ron Hill
2015, Brian Chaplin, USA, 7 min.
Ron Hill aka "Chill" recalls his parallel careers in the worlds of advertising (as a designer) and hip-hop (as a d.j. and graffiti artist). (MR)
Road to Freedom
2017, Tiffany Addison, USA, 7 min.
Before she can accept a marriage proposal, a young woman must overcome the negative feelings implanted by her father. (MR)
2016, Jean Williams, USA, 15 min.
A white man's racist obsessions threaten to ruin his marriage. (MR)
2016, Chan C. Smith, USA, 20 min.
Lying on the street, gasping for breath, a young man recalls the circumstances that put him in the path of police gunfire. (MR)
2016, Jasmine Cannon, Branden Hampton, and Yingxu Jane Hao, USA, 17 min.
The group 10,000 Fearless works to reduce gun violence on the streets of Chicago. (MR)
A Love Letter to the Ancestors From Chicago
2017, Ytasha L. Womack, USA, 14 min.
An Afrofuturist experimental dance film, performed in the corridors, stairwells, and basements of Southside Chicago. (MR)
2017, Nicole Franklin, USA, 72 min. With Chicava Honeychild, Fidel Vicioso.
At first glance, the IT consulting firm at the heart of TITLE VII’s story seems the poster child for a successful minority business, but director Franklin unfolds a tense tale of deceit, double-dealing, and same-race discrimination that lurks beneath the sleek and glossy surface. CEO Hillary Kelsey (Honeychild) is having a bad day that starts with a racially motivated traffic stop. It gets worse when she meets her first job applicant of the day, Darryl (Vicioso), a suave Black executive who takes note of the firm’s strange lack of minority employees. Darryl has his own secrets, as do Kelsey and her cohorts, whose conflicts of interest and poisonous agendas threaten a corporate implosion. DCP digital. (BS)
Wilmington On Fire
2015, Christopher Everett, USA, 90 min.
Rosewood has long been infamous, but Wilmington came first and was even more devastating in its effects. In 1898, Wilmington was North Carolina's largest city, with a majority Black population, a thriving Black middle class, and a biracial Republican-Populist fusion government. On November 10, an armed mob of Democrat-backed white supremacists opened fire on African American neighborhoods, slaughtering dozens and driving thousands out of the city for good. In a five-year passion project that consumed all his resources, director Everett amassed rare photographs, original research, and testimony from historians and descendants of the victims to uncover a shocking event that marked a turning point in the politics of the post-Reconstruction South. ProRes digital. (MR) FF
Shorts Program: Love African American Style
2016-17, Various directors, USA, 96 min.
- Fri, Aug 18th 6:00pm
- Sat, Aug 19th 8:30pm
Six shorts look at the beautiful, daring, and terrifying things we do for love:
2017, Bryce Ray, USA, 8 min.
What’s a guy to do in the face of an imminent breakup, when conflicting advice is coming from sources close to him? (BS)
2017, Micea Bryant, USA, 7 min. With Nia Francis, Rondel Kennerson.
A very special girl delivers a valentine, and teaches the object of her affection a much-needed lesson. (BS)
2017, Marshall Tyler, USA, 16 min. With Tunde Adibempe, China Shivers.
Impending divorce puts a proud man in a humiliating position. (BS)
2016, Tarik Jackson, USA, 17 min. With Tony Baker, Tarik Jackson.
This satirical comment on gentrification provides a real and sometimes hilarious education in modern romance for an investigative cub reporter. (BS)
2016, Mary Moutry and Karim Moutry, USA, 28 min. With Sierra Aston, Luka Fisher.
In this cautionary tale, two best friends share a mad craving for a curvaceous body enhancement in order to boost their chances at love. (BS)
2016, Nathan Hale Williams and Jennia Fredrique Aponte, USA, 20 min. With Teyonah Parris, Nic Few.
The eagerly anticipated night of his marriage proposal takes an unexpected turn for the future groom. (BS)
The Best Thing!
2017, Kyle T. Miller, USA, 96 min. With K.C. Lee, Simeon Henderson.
- Fri, Aug 18th 8:30pm
- Tue, Aug 22nd 8:15pm
Shot entirely on Chicago’s South Side, this homegrown comedy features an enjoyably sprawling plot, performances showcasing local talent, and the kind of feel-good sense of community that happens only in dreams. An orphan with an unknown father, an inheritance without an heir, a gold-digger with a taste for vengeance, and the love life of smalltime entrepreneur Justin (Lee) figure in a story that gets to the lively heart of things in Justin’s coffee shop restaurant, where there are no secrets from this nosy neighborhood. Director Miller gives his supporting cast their due, with some standout performances including Simeon Henderson as Justin’s sidekick and court jester, LaToya Dotson as feisty Mother Johnson, who knows where all the bodies are buried, and Joy Fredericks as LaTreese the outspoken waitress. DCP digital. (BS)
90 Minutes of the Fever
2016, Michael Sean Hall, USA, 86 min. With Parker McKenna Posey, Glenn Plummer.
This thriller ups the ante in tension with an apocalyptic plot in a sci-fi vein that transforms an L.A. family’s Sunday evening into a mad and madder melodrama. A controlling father, three kids, the daughter’s Latino boyfriend, and an unhappy wife squabble in the usual way, until the ominous image of a countdown clock on the TV screen preempts the announcement of a lottery jackpot. The evening sky is on fire with eerie lights; explosions and riots erupt in the streets; and martial law is declared. Inside the house, the McGee family splinters, with every dark secret and hidden hatred bursting to the surface. DCP digital. (BS)
Panel: Action! The Real Deal About Filmmaking
- Sat, Aug 19th 3:00pm
Our "Black Harvest" panel discussion annually debates issues relating to black filmmaking. Festival consultant Sergio Mims heads up a panel of filmmakers featured in this year's festival, including 90 MINUTES OF THE FEVER producer Monica Cooper, Ytasha Womack (A LOVE LETTER TO THE ANCESTORS FROM CHICAGO, showing in the Made in Chicago I shorts program), David Weathersby (GOT THE LOVE, showing in the Made in Chicago II shorts program ), Jean Williams (BARACKED, showing in the Made in Chicago I shorts program), and Anton Deshawn Range (CALL CENTER) . The audience is invited to participate in this provocative forum.
Black Harvest Marketplace
- Sat, Aug 19th 1:00pm
View and purchase unique items from Black-owned businesses from 1 PM to 5 PM. Wine, chocolate, jewelry, skin care, fashion, children’s books, and more!
Participating brands include:
• Love Cork Screw
• NUM YUMMIES
• AHF Body Chemistry
• KaZoom Publishing
• Dana Todd Pope
• Brooks Permissions
• Voted Most Creative
• R'ARE Vodka
Fast Break: The Legendary John McClendon
2016, Kevin Willmott, USA, 57 min.
Director Willmott, who dramatized Wilt Chamberlain's first year at KU in JAYHAWKERS (BHFF, 2014), returns to the hoops with this documentary tribute to "Coach Mac," who has been called the father of modern-day basketball. His innovations such as the fast break and the full-court press revolutionized the game. McClendon was also a pioneer in desegregating the sport, including the legendary 1944 "Secret Game" in which a black team played a white team for the first time. ProRes digital. (MR)
Preceded by the short film
2016, Xavier Bergin, USA, 15 min.
A high school basketball star's bright prospects are dimmed by the envy of his embittered father. (MR)
Shorts Program: Black History — Lost and Found
2016-2017, Various directors, USA, 80 min.
- Mon, Aug 21st 8:00pm
Six thought-provoking films with historical themes:
He Who Dances On Wood
2017, Jessica Beshir, USA, 6 min.
Veteran tap dancer Fred Nelson discusses and demonstrates his passion for the art. (MR)
Rolling In The Deep
2017, Marcellus Cox, USA, 12 min.
A black World War II veteran demands to be served in a Whites Only diner. Based on a true incident.
Bayard & Me
2017, Matt Wolf, USA, 16 min.
Civil Rights leader Bayard Rustin is recalled by the man who loved him. (MR)
The Government Gang
2017, Reggie Henderson, USA, 19 min.
A black gang battles a federal agent during the Bonnie and Clyde era. (MR)
2016, Matthew Gentile, USA, 13 min.
A incident in the life of real-life African American peace officer Bass Reeves is dramatized. (MR)