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.
Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts
2018, Jeffrey Wolf, USA, 76 min.
Bill Traylor has been called "the greatest artist you never heard of," although more recent recognition (including a massive exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum earlier this year) has cemented his reputation as one of America's greatest self-taught artists. Born into slavery in Alabama in 1853, Traylor toiled as a sharecropper and factory-worker until homelessness motivated him to take up drawing at age 85. Camped on a Montgomery sidewalk and using pieces of discarded cardboard as his canvases, Traylor churned out colorful, semi-abstract renderings of such subjects as animals, houses, monuments, drinkers, and disputatious couples that register both as striking modernist forms and as records of a lost post-Reconstruction world. This concise, illuminating documentary captures the remarkable trajectory of Traylor's long life and belated creative outburst, which is linked to such contexts as blues, tap-dancing, and Black mysticism. DCP digital. (MR) FF
2019, Robert Rippberger, USA, 82 min.
With Joi Campbell, Danny Glover
“Provides an insider’s perspective that tells it like it is without sensationalism.”—Jennie Kermode, Eye for Film
In a story based on the experiences of co-screenwriter Sha-Risse Smith, a Harlem girl’s dream to get into Yale meets with obstacles when her family begins to disintegrate. Living in the projects, with no dad in the picture and a harried overworked single mom, Kalani (Campbell) is most often the shoulder to lean on for her older brother Jacob and her little sister Bebe. Attending an elite college prep on scholarship as the school’s only Black student, Kalani juggles pressure and prejudice, alleviated only by the staunch support of her guidance counselor Mr. Rose (Glover). When Jacob begins dealing drugs, and 13-year-old Bebe loses her virginity to a local thug, Kalani discovers that loyalty to her family and her own carefully nurtured plans for the future are on a collision course. DCP digital. (BS)
Shorts Program: Black History—Lost and Found
2017-19, Various directors, USA/Sierra Leone/Cameroon, 76 min.
- Thu, Aug 22nd 8:30pm
Four thought-provoking films with historical themes.
A CIVIL WAR: FOR THE SOUL OF BLACK AMERICA
2017, Khinmay Lwin van der Mee, USA, 23 min.
That wild Afro is just one of the tools that charismatic author and USC law professor Jody David Armour uses in his tireless campaign against ingrained racial stereotypes. ProRes digital. (MR)
THE GERMAN KING
2019, Adetokumboh M’Cormack, USA/Sierra Leone/Cameroon, 20 min.
With Adetokumboh M’Cormack, Scottie Thompson
This impressively produced historical drama tells the moving true story of a Cameroonian prince who defends his people against the German Kaiser who was once his best friend. In English and German with English subtitles. DCP digital. (MR)
2018, David de Rozas, USA, 17 min.
Experimental in form, this documentary centers on Rev. Roland Gordon, who, as San Francisco's Black heritage is eradicated through gentrification, creates a vast collage memorializing African American achievements. ProRes digital. (MR)
AN ACT OF TERROR
2018, Ashley Paige Brim, USA, 16 min.
With Olivia Washington, Tonya Perkins
Winner of numerous festival awards, this powerful film dramatizes the true story of a 16-year-old African American girl who was railroaded into the electric chair in Virginia in 1912. Note: Contains graphic depiction of capital punishment. DCP digital. (MR)
2018, Storm Saulter, USA/Jamaica, 114 min.
With Dale Elliott, David Alan Grier
“Makes a mad dash straight for the audience’s gut…elicits the kind of exuberant glee emblematic of so many great sports films.”—Courtney Howard, Variety
In this rousing sports drama from Jamaica, a youthful athlete’s future is thrown off course by family dysfunction and a desire to please the absent mother who departed for the U.S. ten years before and never returned. Director Saulter (BETTER MUS’ COME) combines the thrills and tension of competitive running with an engaging story with true Jamaican flavor. High school track runner Akeem (Elliott) tries unsuccessfully to match his older brother Germaine’s record, until his perceptive coach (Grier) urges him to switch events to become a sprinter. Suddenly a newly acclaimed star dubbed the “Rasta Rocket,” Akeem finds his dreams within reach, but jealous Germaine, now a scammer and drug dealer, dangles dangerous temptations before his naïve younger brother. DCP digital. (BS)
2019, Carine Bijlsma, Netherlands, 84 min.
In 2001, with two smash albums under his belt and a frequently bared buff physique that sent female fans into a frenzy, neo-Soul singer/songwriter D'Angelo seemed poised for Prince-level superstardom. But it would be twelve years before he performed in public again and fourteen before he released another album. Centered on the Second Coming tour that accompanied the release of D'Angelo's acclaimed comeback album Black Messiah, this thoughtful documentary combines show-stopping performances with the singer's introspective reflections on the reasons behind his extended hiatus, including drug and alcohol abuse, misgivings over his hyper-sexualized image, and a lifelong struggle with his parents' disapproval (his father was a Pentecostal minister) of his immersion in "the devil's music." DCP digital. (MR)
Thee Debauchery Ball
2019, David Weathersby, USA, 71 min.
Chicago’s large and thriving house music community is celebrated with flair in this new documentary by director Weathersby (THE COLOR OF ART). The film extends over a period of one year, from the Debauchery Ball of 2017 to the ball of 2018, events that expanded the scope and appreciation for house music with innovative and unprecedented fetish-themed, BDSM, and body-positive house parties. Weathersby interviews the ball’s founder Khari B and deejay William “Big Will” Dunn, and extravagantly underlines Black sexuality with a profile of Erika Jarvis (Miss Behaven) as she makes preparations for the ball. Sensual, lusciously evocative coverage of the balls themselves speaks to the vibrant durability of a less recognized aspect of Chicago’s Black culture. DCP digital. (BS)
Bessie Coleman, First Black Aviatrix
2018, Olivier Sarrazin, France, 53 min.
Pioneer aviatrix Bessie Coleman was the first African American woman to receive a pilot's license. This classy French production uses excerpts from Coleman's journals and sweeping aerial views of the sites where she learned to fly to accompany commentary by experts centered in France and Chicago—the two most important venues in her flying career. Born to a family of Texas sharecroppers, in 1916 the 24-year-old Coleman moved to Chicago, where she embraced the dream of becoming a flier. American aviation schools were closed to both Blacks and women, but Chicago Defender publisher Robert S. Abbott encouraged her ambitions and helped sponsor a trip to France, where she learned to fly. Returning to the U.S., Coleman gained fame as a barnstorming pilot, until her life was cut short by an aviation accident at age 34. Buried in Chicago's Lincoln Cemetery, she remains an inspiration for African American aviators (including astronaut Mae Jemison, who carried a picture of Coleman on her first space mission). In English and French with English subtitles. DCP digital. (MR) FF
Shorts Program: Women of Color
2017-19, Various directors, USA/Canada, 74 min.
- Sun, Aug 25th 5:15pm
- Mon, Aug 26th 8:15pm
Heart, soul, and perseverance are a woman’s essentials in these seven shorts.
MAHALIA MELTS IN THE RAIN
2018, Emilie Mannering and Carmine Pierre-Dufour, Canada, 12 min.
With Kaiyonni Renner, Sagine Sémajuste
A beauty ritual meant to be a rite of passage triggers mixed emotions in a young ballerina whose peers have given her the cold shoulder. DCP digital. (BS)
IT MUST BE PAPRIKA
2018, Aissa Gueye, USA, 12 min.
With Aissa Rose Gueye, Napoleon Williams II
A Muslim teen reaches for new possibilities when a new friend and a skateboard come into her life. ProRes digital. (BS)
2017, Brianna Clearly, USA, 5 min.
With Bella Bahhs
A relationship comes to a turning point with two phone calls at cross-purposes. ProRes digital. (BS)
DEAR INNER CITY
2019, Jazmin Bryant, USA, 12 min.
With Lauren Miller, Josiah Zion Paris
A desperate homeless woman with a child struggles to turn her back on the old life on Chicago’s mean streets. ProRes digital. (BS)
2018, Brandon Reese, USA, 13 min.
With Nada Steier, Armand Fields
A special birthday party is a catalyst for change when a mother looks back. ProRes digital. (BS)
ON MOTHER’S DAY
2018, Ellie Wen, USA, 7 min.
Mother’s Day is a different sort of commemoration for a mom who has become a tireless advocate for her incarcerated son. ProRes digital. (BS)
THE NEW MOTHER
2019, Eleva Singleton, USA, 13 min.
With Tania Coulter, Tinsey Rose Torres
An elderly woman and her grown daughter share a common bond across the age gap in this sensitive drama. ProRes digital. (BS)
Last Night a DJ Saved My Life
2017, Damon Jamal, USA, 71 min.
With Cisco Reyes, Jasmine Burke
In this rambunctious romantic comedy mixing toxic jealousy, gangsters, and love that runs a crooked course, the life of popular Atlanta late-night radio DJ Tony Sinclair (Reyes) changes in a flash as a result of two consecutive call-ins from listeners. In the first, Tony offers on-air advice to a desperate mystery woman with a relationship dilemma; in the second, his gold-digger girlfriend Christine publicly dumps him. As luck would have it, the humiliating breakup heard by the city at large makes him a celebrity. In short order, Tony scores the job of his dreams, is welcomed as a VIP at clubs, and has women throwing themselves at his feet. Just one woman has a reason for finding him: Robin (Burke), his first caller on that fateful night. It’s love at first sight for both, but Robin is on the run from a very dangerous past, and Tony’s ex has become an obnoxious stalker. DCP digital. (BS)