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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.

—Barbara Scharres

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.


Filmmakers in person!

Bill Traylor: Chasing Ghosts

2018, Jeffrey Wolf, USA, 76 min.


  • Sun, Aug 18th 5:30pm
  • Mon, Aug 19th 7:45pm

Filmmakers in person!


2019, Robert Rippberger, USA, 82 min.
With Joi Campbell, Danny Glover


  • Wed, Aug 21st 8:30pm
  • Thu, Aug 22nd 6:00pm

Filmmakers in person!

Shorts Program: Black History—Lost and Found

2017-19, Various directors, USA/Sierra Leone/Cameroon, 76 min.


  • Thu, Aug 22nd 8:30pm


2018, Storm Saulter, USA/Jamaica, 114 min.
With Dale Elliott, David Alan Grier


  • Fri, Aug 23rd 4:15pm
  • Sun, Aug 25th 3:00pm

Devil's Pie—D'Angelo

2019, Carine Bijlsma, Netherlands, 84 min.


  • Fri, Aug 23rd 6:30pm
  • Sat, Aug 24th 8:15pm

David Weathersby in person!

Thee Debauchery Ball

2019, David Weathersby, USA, 71 min.


  • Fri, Aug 23rd 8:30pm
  • Wed, Aug 28th 8:30pm

Special guests in person!

Bessie Coleman, First Black Aviatrix

2018, Olivier Sarrazin, France, 53 min.


  • Sat, Aug 24th 5:15pm
  • Tue, Aug 27th 6:00pm

Filmmakers in person!

Shorts Program: Women of Color

2017-19, Various directors, USA/Canada, 74 min.


  • Sun, Aug 25th 5:15pm
  • Mon, Aug 26th 8:15pm
Filmmakers in person!

Last Night a DJ Saved My Life

2017, Damon Jamal, USA, 71 min.
With Cisco Reyes, Jasmine Burke


  • Tue, Aug 27th 8:15pm
  • Wed, Aug 28th 6:00pm