26th Annual Black Harvest Film Festival

Thank you for making the 26th Annual Black Harvest Film Festival an overwhelming success. What an amazing, loving, creative, and joyful month November was! 

The Black Harvest Film Festival was the perfect balm to a turbulent year; for a month we came together in joy.  You watched films from emerging and established filmmakers; participated in panel discussions that added to the national conversation on race; and, as we provided a platform for filmmakers to interact with the audience, you in turn provided valuable feedback for their artistic growth. You also proved that the Black Harvest Film Festival is you! It is not a building on State St. nor a reunion in August; it is a spiritual coming together to connect and enjoy what our storytellers have created. 

We could not present this festival without the work of the Black Harvest Community Council, who really went above and beyond this year. This dynamic group of advocates is led by co-chairs NK Gutiérrez and Troy Pryor.  On behalf of the entire GSFC staff and Black Harvest community, I want to thank them all. 

I want to thank you, whether you have been a fan of the BHFF for years or were new to the festival—due to your streaming of films throughout the month, we surpassed all of our goals for attendance.  I know that we all terribly miss being physically together, but by collectively viewing the same films we were together. It is amazing how many positive vibes you can get from a virtual festival. I really want to thank you all for bringing the love to Black Harvest Film Festival.  

I encourage you all to continue streaming Gene Siskel Film Center  films many which are presented in the spirit of the Black Harvest Film Festival


Jean de St. Aubin

Executive Director

A welcome letter from the Gene Siskel Film Center Director of Programming, Barbara Scharres

From November 6 through 30, the Gene Siskel Film Center welcomes you to the first-ever all-virtual edition of the 26th Annual Black Harvest Film Festival.  In this year of many challenges, we have worked with filmmakers, our Black Harvest Community Council, and partnering sponsors including the National Endowment for the Arts to reimagine the film festival experience for your at-home enjoyment.

What it means for you as a viewer:  the convenience of having up to fourteen days to view most feature films and shorts programs on your preferred device at your chosen time; more personal encounters with filmmakers in participatory online discussions, panels, and workshops; perks like online viewing parties, networking opportunities, and other fun events.  Keep checking our website at www.siskelfilmcenter.org for updates and additions.  All films are Chicago premieres!

A Black Harvest Feast, our opening night program on Friday, November 6 at 7:30 pm, is hosted by NBC Chicago’s LeeAnn Trotter, our Master of Ceremonies, and features a unique parade of filmmakers in a virtual red carpet to kick off the festivities.  Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot and First Lady Amy Eshlman serve as the honorary festival co-chairs, welcoming patrons via video.  The Black Harvest Feast program of five short films ranges from local to international, providing a true taste of the festival’s diverse array of upcoming offerings.

Closing night on Monday, November 30, honors the career of the late and universally mourned star Chadwick Boseman, with a tribute program including Mischa Webley’s THE KILL HOLE.  This independent thriller gave Boseman his first starring role in a feature film, which had its Chicago premiere in the 2012 Black Harvest Film Festival.  Director Webley will make an online appearance to discuss his working relationship with Boseman.  In the evening’s very special presentation, Chicago-based film archivist, academic, author, Turner Classic Movies host, and most recently-named Chief Artistic and Programming Officer of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, Jacqueline Stewart will receive the Black Harvest Film Festival Legacy Award.

Film noir is the underlying influence in the lush feature BROWN PAPER BAG, set in 1942 Hollywood, where an unemployed Black actor segues into a job as a private eye in his pursuit of the Hollywood dream.  Comic encounters involving the neighbors on a Brooklyn block play out when a down-on-his-luck film editor accidentally locks himself out of his apartment in THE OUTSIDE STORY, featuring rising-star actors Bryan Tyree Henry and Sonequa Martin-Green.  A weekend gathering of longtime friends devolves into a wry comedy in THE NEXT STEP, when the party’s host and his guests become rivals.

Feature films made in Chicago include Ashley O’Shay’s provocative of-the-moment documentary UNAPOLOGETIC, and Artel Great’s poetic love story LOVE LIKE WINTER.  UNAPOLOGETIC focuses on two powerfully motivated local women activists working for social justice, while LOVE LIKE WINTER takes stunning Chicago landscapes as the background for the bittersweet chance meeting between two former lovers. 

Films made by or featuring Chicagoans are seen in the shorts program The Chicago Connection.  Shorts by Chicago directors also appear in programs throughout the festival, including on opening night and in the shorts programs Love African American Style, Voices of Our Time, and Women of Color

Filmmakers probingly and creatively tackle issues including systemic racism, policing, prejudice, and inequity in the program Voices of Our Time.  The Richard and Ellen Sandor Family Black Harvest Film Festival Prize for best short film will be awarded to the short TIMOUN AW (YOUR KID) by Nelson Foix of Martinique, at the Tales from Other Shores international program on November 13.

Our festival documentaries tell remarkable stories and revolve around themes of leadership and community.  RIVER CITY DRUMBEAT, packed with vibrant drumming sequences, traces the story of a grassroots Louisville drum corps, where youth find new meaning in connecting with African traditions.  The transformative powers of music and mentorship are at the heart of THE GATHERING: ROOTS & BRANCHES OF LOS ANGELES JAZZ, featuring dynamic progressive-jazz performances by legendary musicians and emerging talents alike.  The nurturing tight-knit African American community of South Central Los Angeles men who pursue a unique and all-encompassing hobby is explored in fascinating depth in PIGEON KINGS.

Mentoring two street-smart Newark boys proves to be a rough road for a New Jersey Muslim casket maker when his own checkered past comes back to haunt him in the evocative documentary TWO GODS.  Hard-won triumph over a life of early adversity and abuse characterizes THUMBS UP FOR MOTHER UNIVERSE: THE LONNIE HOLLEY STORY, a compelling portrait of the singularly original artist and musician whose work is now collected by the Smithsonian and the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Check our website for an array of panels and workshops involving lively in-depth discussion and audience participation, including the November 10 panel Who Tells the Story, featuring veteran documentary director Stanley Nelson (THE BLACK PANTHERS: VANGUARD OF THE REVOLUTION) discussing who has agency to tell the stories of the Black experience, and on November 24, the panel How Culture and Film Move Movements discusses film as an instrument of social change.

All festival films are eligible for the Audience Award, so be sure to check our website to discover how to make your opinion count.  Our website www.siskelfilmcenter.org is also your source for late-breaking news on special events and appearances, so do check often. 

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, and BMO Harris, Allstate, Locke Lord, Gilead Sciences, NBC 5 Chicago, and ComEd.  Special thanks to festival consultant Sergio Mims, our Black Harvest Community Council, and the many filmmakers who help make this festival possible.


A note from the Gene Siskel Film Center Executive Director, Jean de St. Aubin 

Dear Friends,

Welcome to the 26th Annual Black Harvest Film Festival. Presented November 6 - 30 as a streamed festival, we are delighted to be able to bring the BHFF right into your homes. The year 2020 has proven to be a year like no other, but the one constant is our need to come together (even remotely) to share our stories and celebrate our shared humanity. This year we are especially honored to have Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot and First Lady Amy Eshleman serve as Honorary Co-chairs of the Black Harvest Film Festival. Along with the Mayor and First Lady, I invite you to join us for the 26th Annual Black Harvest Film Festival to explore films that portray the full range of the Black experience on film.

I am particularly proud of this year’s Black Harvest Film Festival. In addition to the over 50 film premieres, we have increased the number of panels presented so that we can add to the national conversation on race. I encourage you to participate in this public discourse on topics such as who has agency to tell stories of the Black experience and how films have been used to effect social change.

A first this year is Fresh Perspectives, a selection of short films created by young Chicagoans, followed by a conversation with the rising stars. Other highlights include the opening night celebration, with mistress of ceremonies NBC 5’s LeeAnn Trotter and the screening of five short films; the presentation of the Richard and Ellen Sandor Family Black Harvest Film Festival Prize on November 13, a monetary award presented to the director of the best short film; and culminating with a very special closing night, as we present the Black Harvest Film Festival Legacy Award to Jacqueline Stewart and pay tribute to Chadwick Boseman with a screening of KILL HOLE, an early Chadwick Boseman film that premiered at the BHFF in 2012.

We are eternally grateful for the generous support from foundations, individuals, and corporations. I want to especially thank Allstate, BMO Harris, ComEd, Gilead Sciences, Locke Lord, The Richard and Ellen Sandor Family Foundation, Felicia Middlebrooks, the National Endowment for the Arts, Illinois Arts Council, the CityArts Grant, WBEZ, and NBC 5 Chicago. This festival would not be possible without the advocacy and guidance of the Black Harvest Community Council, this year chaired by Troy Pryor and NK Gutiérrez. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the small but mighty staff of the Gene Siskel Film Center; I am truly honored to be among such hardworking, creative, and dedicated individuals.

I want to congratulate all of the filmmakers whose work will be screened at the 26th Annual Black Harvest Film Festival. It is not easy to complete a film in the middle of a pandemic. We are very grateful for your efforts and for sharing your stories with all of us. A very special thank you to all of you, for streaming this year’s films and sharing the Black Harvest Film Festival with your friends and family. Providing opportunities for filmmakers and the audience to come together to discuss the many films we’re streaming is at the heart of the Black Harvest Film Festival.

In the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd, we gathered the Black Harvest Community Council together with the Gene Siskel Film Center staff to discuss how the Film Center could use our platform in service of the movement to bring about racial justice and equity. The response was unanimous: tell our stories, present the best Black Harvest Film Festival. In addition to the array of films, this year’s festival has merchandise benefitting local racial equity organizations, a section of the BHFF website dedicated to highlighting Black-owned businesses, and a showcase of the very best from young Chicago filmmakers. So here you have it, in its 26th iteration—with a few transformations—the Black Harvest Film Festival.


Jean de St. Aubin 

Executive Director

Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago

A note from the President of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Elissa Tenny

Dear Festival Goers,

For the past 26 years, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) has celebrated the stories, images, heritage, and history of the Black experience through the Black Harvest Film Festival at the Gene Siskel Film Center, a public program of SAIC. This year, as righteous opposition to anti-Black discrimination resounds worldwide, and the COVID-19 pandemic (its disproportionate effect, in and of itself, a symptom of systemic racism) curtails the communal experience cinema offers, the Film Center is more committed than ever to be home for Black filmmakers’ breath and diversity of talent. Even when we must showcase that cinema online.

For the first time ever, the Black Harvest Film Festival will be presented entirely online, and this website is your portal to get your Tickets & Passes to festival Films & Events: amazing, provocative, and moving short and feature-length films and additional programming, including Screen to Screen panel discussions exploring how to get your film made, who has the agency to tell stories of the Black experience, and if films have the power to elicit cultural change.

Festival highlights include opening night’s Black Harvest Feast, introduced by honorary co-chairs Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot and First Lady Amy Eshlman; a screening of Your Kid, this year’s recipient of the Richard and Ellen Sandor Family Black Harvest Film Festival Prize for best short film, as part of the Tales From Other Shores shorts program; and the closing night tribute to the late Chadwick Boseman and presentation of the Black Harvest Film Festival Legacy Award to professor, author, Director of Arts + Public Life at the University of Chicago, and host of Tuner Classic Movies’s Silent Sunday Nights Jacqueline Stewart.

The members of the Black Harvest Community Council are the dedicated group of volunteers who make the Festival possible ever year, and this year’s members were particularly indispensable. They provided enthusiasm, vision, and clarity of purpose in bringing this year’s movies and events online. I thank the Council co-chairs Troy Pryor and NK Gutiérrez, and all the members, for their unwavering commitment to the Black Harvest Film Festival.

Finally, I thank you, the audience, for celebrating the vital work of Black filmmakers. Even though we won’t be physically together this year, know you won’t be watching these films alone. Exceptional cinema, like you’ll see at the Black Harvest Film Festival, is always a place of engagement. During the festival, we’ll each see a movie that stirs our souls, ignites our intellect, and unites us in a story we’ll share in our minds and hearts.


Elissa Tenny


School of the Art Institute of Chicago