The Gene Siskel Film Center presents programming in the spirit of the Black Harvest Film Festival all year long!
Grace Jones: Bloodlight And Bami
2017, Sophie Fiennes, Ireland/UK, 115 min.
- Fri, Jun 15th 4:00pm
- Fri, Jun 15th 8:30pm
- Sat, Jun 16th 8:00pm
- Sun, Jun 17th 5:45pm
- Mon, Jun 18th 7:45pm
- Tue, Jun 19th 6:00pm
- Wed, Jun 20th 7:45pm
- Thu, Jun 21st 8:15pm
"The documentary is a feat of portraiture and a restoration of humanity. It's got the uncanny, the sublime, and, in many spots, a combination of both." - Wesley Morris, The New York Times
"A sumptuous sensory treat...Jones gives great diva for the camera." - Stephen Dalton, Hollywood Reporter
As demonstrated by her previous films on Slavoj Žižek (THE PERVERT'S GUIDE TO CINEMA) and Anselm Kiefer (OVER YOUR CITIES THE GRASS SHALL GROW), Sophie Fiennes knows how to tailor a film to a cultural icon. She rises to the occasion again with this fittingly unconventional portrait of the ageless diva of androgynous glam, Grace Jones. This is no career retrospective filled with archival clips and talking heads. Instead, the tense is immersively present, and our proximity to Jones is all-access. Filmed and edited over a period of twelve years, the film uses as its spine a visit by Jones to her family in Jamaica, where she dines on bami, goes to church, and recalls the abusively strict religious upbringing that helped to define her steely stage persona. These scenes are interwoven with round-the-world glimpses of Jones recording (that's where "bloodlight" comes in), relaxing, negotiating, battling with producers and hotel managers, and performing electrifying live versions of such legendary favorites as "La Vie en Rose," "Pull Up to the Bumper, "Warm Leatherette," and "Slave to the Rhythm" (while twirling a hula hoop!). DCP digital. (MR)
Boom for Real: The Late Teenage Years of Jean-Michel Basquiat
2017, Sara Driver, USA, 78 min.
- Fri, Jun 22nd 4:15pm
- Fri, Jun 22nd 6:15pm
- Sat, Jun 23rd 7:45pm
- Sun, Jun 24th 5:00pm
- Mon, Jun 25th 6:00pm
- Tue, Jun 26th 8:00pm
- Wed, Jun 27th 8:00pm
- Thu, Jun 28th 8:15pm
"More than does justice to its acknowledged subject…conveying his personal magnetism, eccentricity and non-stop creativity without romanticizing him." - John DeFore, Hollywood Reporter
"Vivid and beautifully meditative memory piece on the downtown New York art and music scene of the late 1970s and early '80s." - Chris Barsanti, The Playlist
Director Driver (WHEN PIGS FLY, YOU ARE NOT I) captures the wild, raw spirit of the young unknown Jean-Michel Basquiat through the memories and tales of friends and occasional lovers, who knew him not as the lionized art luminary on par with Andy Warhol, but as the eccentric homeless teenager struggling alongside them to eke out an existence on the desolate streets of lower Manhattan in the late-1970s. Unlike earlier films on Basquiat (including Julian Schnabel's fictionalized BASQUIAT and Tamra Davis' documentary JEAN-MICHEL BASQUIAT: THE RADIANT CHILD) this haunting portrait spreads its net wide, putting the tagger and enfant-terrible-to-be in the gritty context of an economically ravaged city, where a new avant-garde art and music culture was being born on alley walls, in pop-up galleries, and in venues like the Mudd Club and Club 57. Interviews include former Basquiat roommate and collector extraordinaire Alexis Adler, hip hop pioneer Fab 5 Freddy, graffiti artist Lee Quiñones, and filmmakers Driver, James Nare, and Jim Jarmusch. DCP digital. (BS)
Ganja & Hess
1973, Bill Gunn, USA, 112 min. With Duane Jones, Marlene Clark.
- Fri, Jun 22nd 8:15pm
- Tue, Jun 26th 8:00pm
"Certainly the most original and intellectually ambitious of all blaxploitation films of the 70s." - Jonathan Rosenbaum, Chicago Reader
"Bill Gunn's epochal indie lulu...so elusive and bloody and challenging a picture that it's every bit as overwhelming now as it must have been when it won the critics' prize at Cannes in '73." - Alan Scherstuhl, Village Voice
Considered a milestone of both the blaxploitation and vampire genres but too contrary to nest comfortably under either label, GANJA AND HESS (which never uses the word "vampire") was acclaimed at Cannes, then butchered and badly distributed before finally emerging as a revered cult classic. Elegant anthropology professor Dr. Hess Green (Jones of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD) is infected with a blood-hunger curse through an ancient African dagger wielded by his assistant (Gunn), who soon commits suicide. The assistant's assertive wife Ganja (Clark) shows up, initiates a passionate affair with Hess, and joins him in blood-drinking bliss until his religious awakening comes between them. Characteristically for Gunn, the plot accounts for only a fraction of the film's rich tapestry. Shifting gears every few minutes and packed with disturbing and provocative images, GANJA AND HESS is a disorienting and haunting experience. Spike Lee's 2015 remake DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS only enhanced critics' memories of the more potent original, and this new 4K restoration follows decades of truncated versions and fuzzy transfers. New 4K DCP digital restoration. (MR)
1980, Bill Gunn, USA, 165 min. With Vertamae Grosvenor, Walter Cotton.
- Sat, Jun 30th 5:00pm
- Tue, Jul 3rd 6:15pm
"A nearly forgotten early '80s video epic from the brilliant GANJA AND HESS director Bill Gunn is an unexpected aesthetic marvel and a major rediscovery." - Howard Hampton, Film Comment
"Nothing less than an explosion of the television form...The gritty materiality of PERSONAL PROBLEMS is initially a shock but soon proves to be a font of exaltation." - Chuck Bowen, Slant
Conceived by author/provocateur Ishmael Reed (Mumbo Jumbo) as a two-part "experimental soap opera," PERSONAL PROBLEMS was filmed on 3/4-inch videotape, aired in a couple of cities, and then completely disappeared. Restored from the original camera tapes, it is now available for the first time in nearly forty years, and it has been acclaimed by critics as a landmark work of black independent cinema. The story centers loosely on Johnnie Mae Brown, a Harlem emergency-room nurse involved in an adulterous affair with a jazz musician. But director Gunn's loose, wide-ranging style enlarges her story into a rich mosaic of African American life in New York, with extended set-piece scenes of direct-to-the-camera interviews, hospital crises, hen parties, family quarrels, wakes, musical performances, and political debates. Note: There will be a 15-minute intermission. New 2K DCP digital restoration. (MR)
2017, Warwick Thornton, Australia, 113 min. With Hamilton Morris, Bryan Brown, Sam Neill.
"Thornton wrings from this fable of rough frontier justice a statement from the heart. Australia now has its HIGH NOON." - Nick Dent, Time Out New York
"A searing indictment of frontier racism as remarkable for its sonic restraint as its visual expansiveness." - Jeannette Catsoulis, The New York Times
Revisiting the racial battlefield of classic westerns both American (especially THE SEARCHERS) and Australian (especially THE CHANT OF JIMMIE BLACKSMITH), SWEET COUNTRY is a riveting, fact-based drama of injustice framed against starkly beautiful widescreen landscapes. Based on real events of the 1920s, the story centers on the pursuit and trial of an Aboriginal farmer who kills a white man in self-defense. Indigenous director Thornton (who also photographed the film) uses the incident to draw a non-simplistic but damning spectrum of a racist society, from the virulent World War I veteran who attacks the accused man to an enlightened but ultimately ineffectual preacher (Neill), with many darker shades of gray in between (including a shrewd riff on the John Wayne image by BREAKER MORANT's Bryan Brown). The film's many powerful scenes include a chilling act of violation conveyed by a gradual gathering of darkness, and an outdoor screening of the pioneer 1906 film THE STORY OF THE KELLY GANG, with the crowd cheering on the bad guys. In English and Arrernte with English subtitles. DCP digital widescreen. (MR)
Did You Wonder Who Fired The Gun?
2017, Travis Wilkerson, USA, 90 min.
"Incendiary…one of the most powerful reckonings in recent American cinema." - Jordan Cronk, Sight and Sound
"Intense, mesmerizing, and heartbreaking…It's hard not to experience DID YOU WONDER WHO FIRED THE GUN? and not get shivers up your spine - from fear, from anger, and from the beauty of Wilkerson's filmmaking." - Bilge Ebiri, Village Voice
Poised between experiment and agit-prop, the documentaries of Travis Wilkerson (AN INJURY TO ONE) channel the grand tradition of American radicalism. A sensation at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival, DID YOU WONDER WHO FIRED THE GUN? fuses Southern Gothic, fiery sermon, and film-noir detective story into a spellbinding personal/political testament. After participating in protests against the acquittal of Trayvon Martin's killer, the filmmaker is driven to exhume a skeleton in his own family closet: the 1946 shooting of an African American man in Dothan, Alabama, by Wilkerson's great-grandfather, who was let off on a flimsy self-defense plea. Wilkerson sets out to investigate a case still veiled in in fear and secrecy, driving down racism-haunted Alabama roads as he follows a twisted trail that takes in a white supremacist aunt, Civil War reenactments, an unmarked grave, a rape investigation by pre-boycott Rosa Parks, the 1963 murder of white civil rights activist William Moore, and the mythic image of TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD's Atticus Finch. But, as Wilkerson warns us, "This isn't another white savior story. This is a white nightmare story." DCP digital. (MR)