25th Anniversary Black Harvest Film Festival
From August 3 through 29, the Gene Siskel Film Center welcomes you to the 25th Anniversary Black Harvest Film Festival. Your support of films celebrating Black life, Black stories, and Black culture around the world has brought us to this milestone year! Our anniversary festival presents a bountiful harvest of seventeen new feature films—fictional and documentary—plus scores of new short films, and personal appearances by more than forty filmmakers, including producers, directors, and actors.
Our very special opening night on Saturday, August 3, has been in preparation for almost two years. This Black Harvest Feast program features the world premieres of five just-completed short films by Midwestern directors. In honor of the anniversary, and for the first time in our history, the Gene Siskel Film Center, with the support of The Joyce Foundation, the Chicago Community Trust, and the Illinois Arts Council Agency, awarded production grants to five proposals vetted by an elite jury of filmmakers and critics. The opening-night audience will see these films for the first time, with filmmakers in person, in a program hosted by NBC Chicago’s LeeAnn Trotter. Immediately after the show, the audience is invited to a reception across the street at the Joffrey Tower.
On closing night, August 29, we pay tribute to Spike Lee’s career with a 25th anniversary screening of his vibrant family drama CROOKLYN (1994), screening in a 35mm print. Actor/co-screenwriter Joie Lee is scheduled to be present for audience discussion.
Feature films made in Chicago include Edward J. Wilson’s LOST GURL, a drama of lost innocence and redemption starring Simeon Henderson, and THEE DEBAUCHERY BALL, David Weathersby’s documentary look at Chicago’s bold and innovative house music scene. Chicago-based country-music star Liz Toussaint shines brightly in her autobiographical documentary AMERICAN AS BEAN PIE. A piece of Chicago history is restored and examined in Olivier Sarrazin’s BESSIE COLEMAN, FIRST BLACK AVIATRIX, with the aviation pioneer’s great-niece Gigi Coleman Brooms and other special guests in person.
Festival documentaries tell remarkable stories and explore issues in depth. Jacqueline Olive’s ALWAYS IN SEASON finds parallels with the past in the suspected lynching of a North Carolina high school football star, while Erik Ljung’s THE BLOOD IS AT THE DOORSTEP examines the shooting death of a Milwaukee man at the hands of police. Black music history stars in Carine Bijlsma’s DEVIL’S PIE—D’ANGELO and Eric Friedler’s IT MUST BE SCHWING! THE BLUE NOTE STORY, produced by Wim Wenders. Emily Harrold’s WHILE I BREATHE, I HOPE follows the career of rising Black politician Bakari Sellers in South Carolina.
The discovery and preservation of the great legacy of paintings and drawings by an Alabama former slave is detailed in Jeffrey Wolf’s BILL TRAYLOR: CHASING GHOSTS. Chasing experiences and ideas is the subject of Max Powers’s DON’T BE NICE, which takes a fly-on-the-wall approach to a New York poetry-slam team preparing for the nationals.
Not only are almost one-third of this year’s films directed by women, but the dreams, challenges, and fates of women of color are front and center in films including Rashaad Ernesto Green’s PREMATURE, seen here in a sneak preview; Jordan Riber’s Tanzanian-set FATUMA; Robert Rippberger’s STRIVE, co-starring Danny Glover; and Numa Perrier’s JEZEBEL, in which a young woman seeks fulfillment as an Internet sex worker.
Life has surprises in store in two films in which young men grapple with rising fame. In Storm Saulter’s SPRINTER, a high school athlete is tempted by the high life and thwarted by a jealous family member, while in Damon Jamal’s romantic comedy LAST NIGHT A DJ SAVED MY LIFE, a bad break-up leads to star-crossed love for a late-night radio DJ.
All festival films are eligible for the Audience Award, so be sure to pick up a ballot in our lobby for every film you see. All shorts are eligible for the Richard and Ellen Sandor Family Black Harvest Film Festival Prize, winner to be selected by a prestigious jury. Check our website regularly at http://www.siskelfilmcenter.org/blackharvest2019 for updates on artist appearances and special events.
The Black Harvest Film Festival is supported by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; the Illinois Arts Council Agency; and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events. Special thanks to festival consultant Sergio Mims, our Black Harvest Community Council, and the many filmmakers who help make this festival possible.
We invite you to view the art exhibit R-E-S-P-E-C-T, a photo series by photographer activist Scheherazade Tillet, in our Gallery/Café. Like Aretha Franklin forever transforming Otis Redding's song “Respect” into her own, this photo series by photographer and activist Tillet takes Huey Newton's iconic wicker chair composition for the girls and young women of A Long Walk Home’s Girl/Friends Leadership Institute. In partnership with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Girl/Friends empowers Black girls to use art to advocate for themselves, others, and for racial/gender justice in schools, communities, and the city of Chicago. In this exhibition, we invite you to join the movement and take a photograph of yourself in the wicker chair and transform yourself into a powerful leader.
Purchase a 6-film Black Harvest festival pass!
Passes are $55 for the general public and $30 for Film Center members. Includes a free small popcorn with each of the six films! Excludes Opening and Closing Night.
FF indicates a family-friendly film.
The Blood is at the Doorstep
2017, Erik Ljung, USA, 90 min.
On April 30, 2014, an unarmed 31-year-old Black man named Dontre Hamilton was rousted by a policeman for sleeping on the sidewalk outside a Starbuck's in downtown Milwaukee. The ensuing scuffle left Hamilton dead, shot 14 times. This lucid, compelling documentary covers the repercussions of the tragic event from all sides, as Hamilton's mother Maria and brother Nate fight to obtain justice, the African American community rallies to their cause, the police department struggles with calls for reform, and the case drags through a series of agonizing delays, disappointments, and qualified victories. Few films have treated the ongoing crisis over police shootings of African Americans with such thoroughness and immediacy. DCP digital. (MR)
Shorts Program: Made in Chicago
2017-19, Various directors, USA, 84 min.
- Sun, Aug 11th 5:30pm
- Mon, Aug 12th 7:45pm
Six films featuring Chicago talent.
2018, Tristian Montgomery, USA, 5 min.
With Tyler Mattison, Ladre Pierce
Poetry and horror-film tropes intersect with gun violence on the streets of Chicago. ProRes digital. (MR)
2019, Ira Childs, USA, 8 min.
With Anita Nicole Brown, Terry Lee Ricks III
A schoolboy who witnesses a bullying incident must decide where his true loyalties lie. ProRes digital. (MR)
IN THE PAINT
2017, Tommy Sigmon (aka Lomai), USA, 29 min.
With Marisa Baldwin Woodhouse, Simeon Henderson
Accomplished acting distinguishes this web-series episode about a woman dealing with her new position as college basketball coach in the wake of a violent incident. DCP digital. (MR)
IN HER WORDS
2019, Latoya Hunter, USA, 14 min.
With Toya Turner, Teharah J. Smith
A woman diagnosed with breast cancer faces her toughest battle in this heartfelt drama. DCP digital. (MR)
2018, Jan Johnson Goldberger, USA, 10 min.
With Khadijah Freeman, Sydney Cusic
A high coach school who intervenes in a dispute between two students finds her own safety at risk. DCP digital. (MR)
A SISTERHOOD OF SIGNATURES
2019, Okema “Seven” Gunn, USA, 18 min.
With Maya Hooks, Cynda Williams
The discovery of a letter penned by her great-grandmother inspires a middle-school girl to explore the significance of the written word in African American history. DCP digital. (MR)
2019, Numa Perrier, USA, 78 min.
With Tiffany Tenille, Numa Perrier
“Sensitivity, insight and humor…an auspicious debut for its director-screenwriter.”—Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter
First-time director Perrier smartly flips the script on this coming-of-age tale of an Internet sex worker, bringing her young heroine Tiffany (Tenille) to a place of self-determining empowerment. Cash-strapped and living in a shabby Las Vegas motel room with an extended family that includes her protective older sister Sabrina (Perrier), Tiffany tremulously embarks on a new career as a “sex cam girl.” Dressed in skimpy lingerie and simulating sex acts in a private chat room for online clients, she tosses the cascading curls of her borrowed wig and capitalizes on her innocence under the stage name Jezebel. With this personal story, Perrier brings a female gaze and a confidently alternative point of view to Tiffany’s discovery of her own sexuality and her power over men. DCP digital. (BS)
Shorts Program: Fantastic Tales
2018-19, Various directors, USA, 85 min.
- Wed, Aug 14th 8:30pm
- Thu, Aug 15th 6:00pm
Six excursions into the realms of horror, fantasy, and science fiction.
2019, Samuel Wofford, USA, 6 min.
With Samuel Wofford, Samantha Nelson
Daniel finds that his new office job comes with something heavier than strings attached in this satiric horror allegory in the Jordan Peele vein. ProRes digital. (MR)
2019, Davis Northern, USA, 18 min.
With Caleb Clark, Deysha Nelson
An eight-year-old boy dreams that he can build a spaceship that will reunite him with his departed father. DCP digital. (MR)
2019, Khaled Ridgeway, USA, 9 min.
With Yves Beneche, Paul Mischesin
Racism gets a culinary twist in this black comedy set in an after-hours diner. DCP digital. (MR)
2019, Kylie Eaton, USA, 14 min.
With Eris Baker, Gina Torres
Eris Baker (This Is Us) stars as a girl fixated on a fantasy TV show that she thinks can dispel the "monster" in her house. DCP digital. (MR)
SUICIDE BY SUNLIGHT
2018, Nikyatu, USA, 17 min.
With Natalie Paul, Madison Spicer
In this stylish horror item exec-produced by Terence Nance, New York City is stalked by Black vampires, one of whom is trying to contact the two daughters from whom she has been forcibly separated. DCP digital. (MR)
2018, Julian Park, USA, 20 min.
With Kaleb Alexander Roberts, Nathan Kim
An imaginative boy wants to believe in superheroes but finds that the streets of L.A. are a lot different from his comic books. DCP digital. (MR)
While I Breathe, I Hope
2018, Emily Harrold, USA, 72 min.
Although he is only 34 years old, Bakari Sellers has been a rising force in the Democratic Party for over a decade. In 2006, at age 22, he became the youngest-ever member of the South Carolina state legislature. He is currently best known as a CNN analyst. Centering on Sellers's 2014 campaign for Lieutenant Governor, this documentary provides a candid behind-the-scenes view of his uphill battle to become the first African American since 1876 to hold statewide office in South Carolina, as the personable and idealistic candidate grapples with such challenges as exhaustion, charges of being too young for the job, and blowback from a 2012 drunk-driving incident. ProRes digital. (MR) FF
Shorts Program: Love African American Style
2017-19, Various directors, USA/UK, 81 min.
- Fri, Aug 16th 6:00pm
- Sat, Aug 17th 8:15pm
Love can be for better or for worse, and, in these six shorts, sometimes it’s worse before it’s better.
FINDING MR. RIGHT
2019, David E. Bright, USA, 4 min.
With Zohra, Gabriel Marroquin
A damsel in distress finds thrills and romance in the manner of a silent movie. ProRes digital. (BS)
2019, Asha Flowers, USA, 7 min.
With Tamala Jones, Sherman Augustus
In this tongue-in-cheek comedy, untimely demise proves no deterrent to a couple’s bickering. DCP digital. (BS)
CATCH A GIRL
2019, LeRon E. Lee, USA, 15 min.
With Daniel G. Cunningham, Kayciblu Wright
Middle-school games pitting boys against girls take on a new meaning when sexual attraction dawns for 11-year-old Darius. ProRes digital. (BS)
THE PECK SITUATION
2019, Carmen Elly Wilkerson, USA, 12 min.
With Mehrnaz Mohammadi, Pritesh Shah
When a kiss is just a peck, a disconsolate wife searches for the ingredient that will bring back the joy in her marriage. DCP digital. (BS)
2018, Anthony E. Williams, USA, 29 min.
With Anthony Williams, Acacia Leigh
A hellcat ex-wife, a sexy current wife, and a bi-curious teen daughter orbit around a harried family man in this comedy/drama. DCP digital. (BS)
2019, Gian Smith, USA, 14 min.
With Rahim Glaspy, Jasmine B. Johnson
Love and attraction move to the variable rhythms of a jazz drummer’s beat in this impressionistic drama. ProRes digital. (BS)
2019, Edward J. Wilson, USA, 70 min.
With Kristin E. Ellis, Simeon Henderson
Set on Chicago’s South Side and featuring a superb cast of local actors, this tense urban drama has the flavor of lawless streets in a story of lost innocence. Young Nola (Ellis) chafes under the obligation to care for her younger siblings while her single mom parties night after night. Rebellion soon puts her in the arms and bed of suave older drug-dealer Jay (Henderson, in one of the best performances of his career), a man who appears to be the strong caring protector she longs for. Burning bridges heedlessly, Nola becomes Jay’s live-in girl, but she discovers that he has eyes for another woman. Caught in an abusive life of complicity in the drug trade and all its attendant violence, Nola becomes Jay’s unwilling bargaining chip with his overlords when a deal goes wrong. DCP digital. (BS)
Panel discussion: New Trends and Strategies in Filmmaking
- Sat, Aug 17th 5:30pm
Black Harvest consultant Sergio Mims and film industry experts discuss wide-ranging approaches and solutions available to independent filmmakers in this digital age. Panelists include: director/producer Pamela Sherrod Anderson (THE G FORCE, THE CURATORS OF DIXON SCHOOL); director David Weathersby (THE COLOR OF ART, THEE DEBAUCHERY BALL); and more TBA. Check here for updates.
- Sat, Aug 17th 1:00pm
Richard and Ellen Sandor Family Black Harvest Film Festival Prize presented to the winner of the best short film in this year’s Black Harvest Film Festival, R.A.W. TUBA. Directed by David Larson and Darren Durlach, the initials R.A.W. stand stand for Richard Antoine White, and this documentary traces his inspiring journey from homelessness to symphony orchestra virtuosity
Chosen by a prestigious jury, the prize will be presented by last year’s inaugural winner, Kelley Kali. Kelley’s winning film LALO’S HOUSE will be shown. After LALO’S HOUSE won the Sandor Prize in 2018 it went on to win the 24th DGA (Directors Guild of America) Student Film Award and a Student Academy Award at the 45th Student Academy Awards. Join us in celebrating and congratulating the 2019 Richard and Ellen Sandor Family Black Harvest Film Festival Prize winner.
Admission is free, but you must reserve a ticket
Shorts Program: Color Me Creative
2018-19, Various directors, USA, 85 min.
- Sun, Aug 18th 3:00pm
Five films celebrating creativity and the imagination.
HIPLET: BECAUSE WE CAN
2018, Addison Wright, USA, 9 min.
It's pronounced hip-LAY, and the Chicago-based Hiplet Ballerinas provide an exhilarating demonstration of this dynamic fusion of hip-hop and ballet. ProRes digital. (MR)
2019, Keisha Rae Witherspoon, USA, 13 min.
With Koko Zauditu-Selassie. Jesus Mitchell
Mourners use flamboyant costume and dance to honor their dead at Miami's annual T Ball. ProRes digital. (MR)
BOOK OF DANIEL
2018, Elodie Edjang, USA, 12 min.
A South Sudanese refugee now living in Chicago, Daniel Bakhiet uses painting, the Bible, and Steven Seagal movies to deal with the traumas of his African past. DCP digital. (MR)
AS TOLD TO G/D THYSELF
2018, The Ummah Chroma, 22 min.
With Kamasi Washington, Kirby Griffin
The collective known as The Ummah Chroma, whose members include filmmaker Terence Nance and jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington, created this dazzling Afro-Futurist spiritual vision featuring songs from Washington's album Heaven and Earth. DCP digital. (MR)
2019, David Larson and Darren Durlach, USA, 29 min.
Those initials stand for Richard Antoine White, and this documentary traces his inspiring journey from homelessness to symphony orchestra virtuosity. (MR)