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.
The Rhythm In Blue
2017, Toni Parker, USA, 96 min. With Jaiden Kane, Jasmine Thomas.
Based on the novel by Crystal Senter-Brown, this romantic drama revolves around the painful secrets that four characters hold close. Mason (Kane), a successful D.C. attorney with a wedding date looming and cold feet in the offing, makes a hurried trip back to his hometown and inadvertently triggers a tragedy. Mason’s childhood best friend Jasmine (Thomas), his male buddy Jacob, now the town’s squeaky-clean Baptist minister, and Jacob’s upright wife Keisha welcome him with open arms and puzzlement. His friends question Mason’s choices and life direction, but his view of their seeming perfection soon unravels when the skeletons come tumbling out of their closets. ProRes digital. (BS)
2017, Andrew Rossi, USA, 91 min.
This documentary portrait focuses on the electrifying performer Okwui Okpokwasili and her acclaimed one-woman show "Bronx Gothic," which New Yorker drama critic Hilton Als called "a tour de force on the order of Toni Morrison’s 'The Bluest Eye,' the author’s seminal text on black girlhood and power." Centering on a series of notes passed between two 11-year-girls in the Bronx in the 1980s, Okpokwasili uses humor, confrontation, and intense physicality to immerse the audience in the often difficult experience of growing up female in a brown body. Offstage encounters with Okpokwasili, her Nigerian immigrant parents, her mentor Ralph Lemon, and audience talk-backs shed light on the mission of this remarkable and courageous artist. DCP digital. (MR)
2016, Tangi Miller, USA, 85 min. With Tangi Miller, Sean Blakemore.
This frothy romantic comedy goes down easy, featuring a crew of fashionable self-styled “bougie babes,” buff guys, a whole lot of secrets, and humorous and devious takes on love. Sophia (Miller), personal trainer and gym owner, is undisputed queen bee in a tight-knit circle that includes self-centered artist Lisa (Mari Morrow), Alex (Vanessa Williams), not-so-happily married to her high school sweetheart, and Jackie (Laila Odom), just returning from two tours of duty in Afghanistan with PTSD. A sparkling, cocktail-fueled night at the club to welcome Jackie home brings Sophia face to face with her ex-fiancé, just as things are heating up with a new love interest. DCP digital. (BS)
On The Sly: In Search of the Family Stone
2017, Michael Rubenstone, USA, 82 min.
- Fri, Aug 25th 8:30pm
- Sat, Aug 26th 6:00pm
In the early 2000s, out-of-work actor Rubenstone became obsessed with the music of Sly and the Family Stone. He also became curious about the whereabouts of the group's charismatic front man Sly Stone, who had last been seen in public in 1993 and whose seclusion had long been the subject of speculation and dark rumors. Rubenstone's twelve-year quest to track down and interview the elusive Sly is the subject of this entertaining film, which is part autobiography, part history of the legendary funk group, and part detective story, filled with dead ends, near sightings, and tantalizing clues. Michael Wadleigh (who captured the group's epochal Woodstock performance), Bobby Womack, Clive Davis, Paul Shaffer, Dick Cavett, Cornel West, manager David Kapralik, and original Family members are among the witnesses and admirers whom the filmmaker encounters as he follows the trail. DCP digital. (MR)
Master Class with Floyd Norman
- Sat, Aug 26th 1:00pm
Led by Disney legend Floyd Norman, this unique 90-minute master class covers the history of animation as seen through Mr. Norman's 62-year career spanning Disney, Hanna-Barbera, Pixar, and more. He also will draw for the audience, take questions, and sign autographs. FF
Floyd Norman: An Animated Life
2016, Michael Fiore and Erik Sharkey, USA, 94 min.
"As joyful as its subject...irresistibly charming." — Otkay Ehe Kozak, The Playlist
Floyd Norman is a one-man living embodiment of animation history over the last 60 years. Inspired by a childhood screening of DUMBO, he became in 1956 the first African American animator at Disney, where he was mentored by the legendary Nine Old Men, worked under Walt himself, and contributed to such classics as MARY POPPINS and THE JUNGLE BOOK. Departing Disney to co-found an all-black animation company (whose creations included the funky choo-choo that opened "Soul Train"), Norman later worked on Fat Albert and Scooby-Doo for Hanna-Barbera before returning to the Mouse House and Pixar projects such as TOY STORY 2 and MONSTERS, INC. Forced to retire at age 65, he unretired himself by continuing to hang around the studio as a consultant, kibitzer, and mentor to appreciative young animators. This affectionate portrait captures the scope of Norman's achievements and the radiance of the man himself. (MR) FF
Special thanks to Diane & Victor Hoskins and Eleva Singleton for their support in making this memorable event happen.
Shorts Program: Made in Chicago II
2016-17, Various directors, USA, 89 min.
- Sun, Aug 27th 5:00pm
- Tue, Aug 29th 8:15pm
The Sunday 8/27 screening is now SOLD OUT!
Six more films featuring Chicago talent:
The Audition: A Long Road to Stardom
2017, Ben J. Moore III, USA 15 min.
Aspiring actress Mylisa experiences the rude and ridiculous realities of the audition process. (MR)
2016, N. LaQuis Harkins, USA, 10 min.
A bullet-pierced window holds painful memories for Kayla's parents. (MR)
From State Prisoner to State Professor
2017, Joshua Jackson, USA, 11 min.
Convicted for armed robbery, artist Najjar Abdul Musawwir turned his life around in prison. (MR)
An Atramentous Mind
2017, Lonnie Edwards and Layne Marie Williams, USA, 10 min.
Experimental techniques illuminate the tense confrontation between a young black woman and a white policeman. (MR)
Got The Love
2017, David Weathersby, USA, 23 min.
Independent "Neo Soul" music groups strive to keep the soul scene alive and well in Chicago. (MR)
2017, Shahari Moore, USA, 23 min. 2017, Shahari Moore, USA, 23 min. With Nora Brooks Blakely, Haki Madhubuti, Cornell West, Nikki Giovanni.
A tribute to Gwendolyn Brooks, the Chicago-based poet who was the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize. (MR)
The Chicago Way + Blueprint For Bronzeville
- Mon, Aug 28th 8:00pm
- Wed, Aug 30th 8:30pm
THE CHICAGO WAY
2017, Donald Washington, USA, 48 min.
With 762 shooting deaths, 2016 was one of the bloodiest years in Chicago history. Written and produced by Tio Hardiman of the Violence Interrupters and Gregg Greer of Freedom First International, the impassioned documentary THE CHICAGO WAY goes into the streets to capture at close range the battle to make Chicago safe, putting us alongside mourners for fallen friends and family members, demonstrators outside a gun shop, protestors confronting Gov. Rauner as he exits an African American church, and paraders for New Era Chicago whipping up community pride. (MR) — WATCH TRAILER
BLUEPRINT FOR BRONZEVILLE
2017, Tristan Hanson and Arlen Parsa, USA, 42 min.
In 2009, when Chicago made its ill-fated bid to host the 2016 Olympics, with Bronzeville the proposed site of the Olympic Village and a new stadium, the historic neighborhood was in crisis. The demolition of decaying housing projects had left thousands of empty lots that were being filled by high-income housing. The community group Housing Bronzeville, embroiled in a struggle to maintain affordable housing, seized upon the Olympics bid to gain leverage for their cause. This concise and illuminating documentary, with Ronit Bezalel (30 ACRES IN CHICAGO) as Supervising Producer, combines informative history with a stirring account of grass-roots activism. (MR) — WATCH TRAILER
Promotional partner is The Seventh Art Stand, a rapid response initiative which utilizes film to bridge communities and create new inroads for civil rights discourse.
Workshop: The Realities of Screenwriting
- Sun, Aug 27th 1:00pm
Thinking about writing a screenplay? Get the real scoop on screenwriting in this free workshop conducted by our "Black Harvest" consultant, critic Sergio Mims, and filmmaker Shahari Moore (BROOKS PEOPLE, showing in the Made In Chicago II shorts program), who have both been there and done that. In this informative session, circa 90 minutes, Mims and Moore reveal what screenwriting books don’t tell you, and why hiring those self-proclaimed writing coaches and gurus is a waste of your time and money. (BS)
Shorts Program: International Visions
2016, Various directors, Various nations, 102 min.
- Wed, Aug 30th 6:00pm
Provocative stories from Africa and the African diaspora open up the world in these shorts:
2016, Rebecca Ocampo, Rwanda/USA, 20 min. With Nevine Nyamongo, Rebecca Ocampo.
A boy abandoned at a Rwandan clinic is beloved as the unofficial mascot, but government regulations threaten his future. In Swahili and English with English subtitles. (BS)
2016, Iman Djionne, Senegal, 27 min. With Aminata Sarr.
A hint of magic realism mediates the harshness of the streets when a pair of boxing gloves becomes a boon and a curse to the embattled girl who finds them. In Wolof and French with English subtitles. (BS)
And Still We Will Walk On
Et toujours nous marcherons
2016, Jonathan Millet, France/Belgium, 25 min. With Yann Gael, Emilio Bissaya.
The streets of Paris become an unwelcoming maze for a new African immigrant desperately searching for his long-missing brother. In French and various African dialects with English subtitles. (BS)
2016, Jarryd Coetsee, South Africa, 30 min. With Atandwa Kani, Phuthi Nakene.
In this Fifties-set drama based on a short story by once-banned South African writer Can Themba, a husband devises a cruel and unusual punishment for his unfaithful wife. (BS)