Last call for the Black Harvest International Festival of Film and Video | Movie Sidebar | Chicago Reader

Last call for the Black Harvest International Festival of Film and Video 

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Presented by Gene Siskel Film Center, this festival of "stories and images of the black experience" continues through September 1. Tickets are $11, $7 for students, and $6 for Film Center members. Following are reviews of selected programs; for a complete schedule see siskelfilmcenter.org.

Kiss and Tell A survey of African-American sexuality in movies is long overdue, but this skimpy documentary fails to do justice to the subject. Dozens of accomplished black actors and directors reminisce about movies that inspired them and share tales from the front lines in Hollywood, and Karen Kramer, the widow of producer Stanley Kramer, recalls the problems her husband encountered while making Guess Who's Coming to Dinner. The chapters on the casting process and the blaxploitation era are pointed, but director Darryl Pitts presents his material in scattershot fashion. The graphics are pedestrian, prominent actors' names are misspelled, and there are glaring omissions (like any appraisal of Will Smith, one of the biggest box office draws in the world). —Andrea Gronvall 71 min. Fri 8/26, 6:15 PM, and Mon 8/29, 8:15 PM.

Phunny Business: A Black Comedy This documentary revisits the South Loop comedy club All Jokes Aside, which operated from 1991 to '98 and presented such notable black stand-ups as Bernie Mac, Steve Harvey, and Dave Chappelle. Given this track record, the movie is woefully short of performance footage, but it delivers an object lesson in Chicago politics: Raymond Lambert, one of the club's founders, cowrote the script, which focuses on the tricky political and financial maneuvers necessary to maintain a good venue. The city is treated with refreshing ambivalence, celebrated for its entrepreneurial spirit but also condemned for its ongoing racial segregation. John Davies directed. —Ben Sachs 84 min. Davies and others attend the screenings. Sat 8/27, 5:45 PM, and Thu 9/1, 7:30 PM.

Preacher This verite documentary by Daniel Kraus (Sheriff, Musician, Professor) profiles Robert Nowell, a 71-year-old Pentecostal pastor who speaks in James Brown cadences and preaches a doctrine of charitable deeds to his working-class congregants. As a filmmaker Kraus continues to spread the gospel of Frederick Wiseman, foregoing exposition to better scrutinize the surfaces of everyday life. (A typical sequence lingers on Nowell as he packs his car with food shelter donations.) But whereas Wiseman contemplates entire institutions, Kraus maintains a far narrower focus; ultimately he's most concerned with how this particular preacher constructs his public persona. It's a vivid depiction of religious star power, complete with several energetic gospel numbers, though the broader nature of Pentecostalism remains fuzzy at best. —Ben Sachs 73 min. Kraus attends the screenings. Sun 8/28, 3 PM, and Tue 8/30, 6 PM.

The Upsetter: The Life and Music of Lee Scratch Perry For the uninitiated, this 2008 video documentary provides a grand introduction to the legendary Jamaican musician and producer Lee "Scratch" Perry, but dub and reggae fans might object to the overly flattering narration, which argues that Perry all but invented both genres and barely acknowledges other major figures (Coxsone Dodd and King Tubby are relegated to a single sentence). The video is less problematic, though far more unnerving, when it deals with Perry's spells of belligerent behavior; startling home recordings (including footage of him setting fire to his famed Black Ark studio in 1979) capture the tension between genius and madness that's shaped many a great artist. Ethan Higbee and Adam Bhala Lough directed; Benicio Del Toro narrates. —Ben Sachs 95 min. Reader music critic Peter Margasak and John Corbett of Corbett vs. Dempsey Gallery discuss the documentary after the Saturday screening; for free tickets see chicagoreader.com. Sat 8/27, 8 PM, and Tue 8/30, 8:15 PM.

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