HONORING BLACK HISTORY MONTH
Our selection of films in honor of Black History Month covers a broad range of genre and periods and even form – from short subjects to documentary to contemporary narrative. We offer, thanks to our friends at Kino, a building block from the earliest days of cinema with Oscar Micheaux’s Within Our Gates (1920), free for your exploration. Micheaux was the most prolific African American filmmaker of all time, and this, his most seen feature, was shot over 100 years ago. Beautifully restored by Kino, with a new score by DJ Spooky, this is an important, enlightening, and entirely relevant examination of the injustices faced by the African American community—then and now.
Killer of Sheep (1978) returns to PFC virtually after a 2007 theatrical run upon its original restoration, courtesy of the fine folks at Milestone Films. Set in the Watts area of LA, the story follows Stan, a slaughterhouse worker, whose wry commentary is our guide in this portrait of urban decay. Director Charles Burnett’s graduate project (he would complete this for under $20k) energized a micro-movement of African American talent in front of and behind the camera in the late 70’s. Shot on 16mm by the director (and edited), Mahnola Dargis praised the film thusly: “The result is an American masterpiece, independent to the bone.” NYT
The streets of the title in 17 Blocks are located in Washington D.C., and they are a map of both hope and heartbreak. The blocks are the distance from the Capitol and the family at the center of this film—Smurf, his brother Emmanuel, mother Cheryl and sister Denise. Director Davy Rothbart (This American Life contributor) befriended Smurf and Emmanuel in 1999 and when Emmanuel expressed interest in filmmaking, Rothbart provided a camera. 20 years later, Rothbart and his team collected the footage to create this intimate portrait of the hopes, dreams and challenges faced by African American families living in poverty.
At first we settle nicely into the narrative shoe that filmmaker Shatara Michelle Ford wears for her feature debut in Test Pattern. An entirely contemporary take of a handsome interracial couple who meet, learn to trust each other, and fall in love. And then a sexual assault shakes them to their core and the real drama of this film begins to unfold. Test Pattern challenges viewer’s assumptions when we follow the couple on a quest to find a rape kit, the first step toward achieving some measure of justice, and experiencing grotesque but all-too-realistic racism within our health system. Ford is a director to watch.
Our Right to Gaze is an energizing collection of six short films from young African American directors. Based on the results, there are a number of exciting careers in the making. From comedy to drama and a few genres in-between, as curator Curtis Caesar John states: In these six films from emerging Black filmmakers, what the protagonists experience as the world they woke up to is not the one from which they’re now appearing. Are they lying to themselves about who they are, or is the truth just not what they expect, but what they deserve?