Black Harvest International Film and Video Festival | Festival | Chicago Reader

Black Harvest International Film and Video Festival 

Black Harvest International Film and Video Festival

This festival of films and videos by black artists from around the world runs Saturday, August 21, through Sunday, August 29, at the Film Center, Art Institute, Columbus Drive at Jackson. Tickets are $7, $3 for Film Center members. For more information call 312-443-3737.


The Girl With Brains in Her Feet

Roberto Bangura's 1997 first feature captures the turmoil of adolescence and the social chaos of Britain in the early 70s. Thirteen-year-old Jacqueline (Joanna Ward) lives with her abusive white mother but has never known her black father; an excellent runner, she's pushed to excel by a sympathetic coach, who says her brains are in her feet. A busy camera and intrusive rock tunes convey Jack's unstable sense of herself--full of contradictions, she takes cigarette breaks during her runs--but when her mother turns soft and cuddly, I was incredulous. (FC) (4:00)

Short films, program one

The real find on this program of four shorts is Pretty and the Wolf, a wicked variation on the Little Red Riding Hood tale directed with great verve by Bruce Rory Thomas. It's set to a half-forgotten musical monologue recorded by Duke Ellington, who was a feminist long before the term became popular. E.J. Lockett's Endangered Species (1997) takes place in a futuristic nation ruled by white supremacists; a group of nonwhites hides in an underground tunnel, the gloomy black-and-white cinematography reinforcing a fatalism that finally gives way to Technicolor as the hero's orphaned child reaches the island paradise his father had only dreamed about. Shawn Batey's Hair-tage (1997) is an engaging valentine to dreadlocks, an emblem of black heritage. The only dud is Rahdi Taylor's Blue Note (1998), in which four black youths in LA are suspected of killing a homeless white man. The story climaxes with a protest against the boys' accuser, but the murky visuals, slack pacing, and pedestrian direction dull the film's edge. (TS) (6:00)

Vacant Lot

Local filmmaker Skee Skinner makes his feature debut with this likable but simpleminded drama about a young, idealistic jazz trumpeter. Polaris Crumble (John Milton Davis) worships his father, an alcoholic pianist, but has trouble making an emotional commitment to the law student he's courting. Skinner and coscreenwriter Paul Branton have tin ears, and their dialogue amounts to little more than a series of feel-good speeches. The direction is perfunctory, the acting mostly stiff, and the camera setups unimaginative, except for some south-side location shots. Yet the gangly Davis elicits sympathy with his doleful demeanor and seductive voice-over, and Chuck Webb's moody score almost succeeds in papering over the gaps in the narrative. (TS) Skinner and Branton will attend the screening. (8:00)


Focus on Santeria

Two 1998 videos about Santeria, an Afro-Cuban religion that mixes worship of voodoo gods with Catholicism. Tsui Ling Toomer's 21-minute documentary The Two Families of Luis Barbosa focuses on a New York practitioner, making Santeria seem pleasant and unthreatening. But Joshua Bee Graham's 44-minute drama Blood Sacrifice offers a near-opposite perspective. Graham plays Lazaro, a man whose recent trip to Cuba has included native music, Santeria, and a sexual dalliance or two. His girlfriend throws him out after he confesses, and Graham punctuates the color narrative with black-and-white fantasy sequences in which she bests him in the boxing ring; the line between vision and reality begins to blur as Lazaro, plunging into the world of Santeria, sees blood on his hands, an echo of the stigmata. Graham conveys some of the religion's power with rituals that involve chanting and dripping blood on ceremonial objects, depicted as strong presences in themselves. (FC) (4:30)


Documentarian and human-rights activist Katharine Kean spent much of the early 90s chronicling Haiti's democracy movement, and this 1997 account of the events surrounding the Aristide election is analytical yet unabashedly critical of the U.S. Kean interviews artists, journalists, monsignors, politicos, businessmen, and Noam Chomsky (who, with others, argues that the U.S. backed the coup d'etat against Aristide), yet she effectively augments the talking heads with protest songs and vivid images of sylvan countryside, squalid alleys, and murals depicting bloody massacres. The most riveting figure is Antoine Izmery, a wealthy merchant who backed Aristide and whose assassination Kean's crew recorded in harrowing detail. At times the film succumbs to rhetoric or paranoia, but for the most part it's a rare and exhaustive look at the poverty-stricken nation. (TS) (6:00)


Short films, program two

Three shorts by up-and-coming talents. The most accomplished is Brin Hill's A Glance Away (1998), about a Brooklyn teenager's summer of discontent. Travon trains to be a boxer while fooling around with his directionless pals and growing infatuated with a college-bound cousin; played by real-life Olympian Mark Breland, he's so soft-spoken that his ambivalence about his future hardly registers, yet Hill has obviously studied Spike Lee and Martin Scorsese and applies the lessons to his street scenes and a protracted boxing sequence. In Mel Donalson's A Room Without Doors (1998), a strong, dignified widower (Michael Beach) and his young son move from the deep south to Massachusetts, only to encounter subtler forms of discrimination. Donalson wrote the screenplay, and while his dialogue can be hokey, waxing noble about the value of perseverance, his sweetly earnest affirmation of the human spirit is hard to resist. Christa Collins's She Smokes is a nasty, ironic riff on the war between the sexes, as a couple skirmish over the woman's smoking and the conflict escalates into infidelity. But the film is hampered by its awkward dialogue and acting, and Collins lacks any strong visual sense. (TS) (6:00)

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Agenda Teaser

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July 15
Performing Arts
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