From August 5 through September 1, the Black Harvest Film Festival will screen dramas and documentaries interpreting “the black experience in the U.S. and around the world.” This year the Gene Siskel Film Center offers 56 features and shorts.
BLACK HARVEST FILM FESTIVAL
When: August 5 through September 1
Where: Gene Siskel FiIm Center, 164 N. State
Admission: $11; $7 students; $6 members; $55 passes
African-American sensibilities inform both subjects and storytelling. Barbara Scharres, the center’s director of programming, underscores the independence of such dramas as “Jerico” and “This is Not Chiraq”: “They reflect one strain of the home-made grassroots black filmmaking that goes on way under the radar of the mainstream,” she said.
“I’m always awed by how much we rediscover each year that there is a huge amount of black filmmaking happening on people’s home computers, etc., and most of it doesn’t get anywhere near a festival, adds Scharres, who selects entries with associate director of programming Martin Rubin and festival consultant Sergio Mims.
A free pre-opening party starts at 5 p.m. Aug. 5 in Couch Place, the alley north of the Siskel Center. To RSVP for this “pop up” projection event, click on http://loopchicago.com/activate. At 9:30 p.m. there’s an indoor screening of “Purple Rain,” the Prince vehicle directed by Albert Magnoli in 1986. Admission is $5.
The 22nd annual fest officially kicks off at 7:30 p.m. Aug. 6 with “A Black Harvest Feast,” a six-shorts sampler. A reception follows at Joffrey Tower (8 E. Randolph). Special admission for this Siskel educational program benefit is $25; students $20; Siskel members $15.
Education is one focus of fest documentaries. “All the Difference” (3 p.m. Aug. 7 and 6 p.m. Aug. 8) is an upcoming PBS broadcast directed by Chicagoan Tod Lending, known for devoting years per project. Amassing 350 hours of footage, he sensitively chronicles two seniors at Urban Prep Charter Academy for Young Men all the way through their graduations from Fisk University and Lake Forest College.
Charter schools are studied, too. “Saving Barbara Sizemore” (3 p.m. Aug. 28 and 6 p.m. Aug. 31) is made by Evanston teacher David J. Steiner. “Gordon Parks Elementary” (3 p.m. Aug. 14) is directed by Kevin Willmott, who co-scripted “Chi-Raq” with Spike Lee. He departs here from his satiric “Destination: Planet Negro!” and “C.S.A.– The Confederate States of America” to sympathetically observe third-graders in Kansas City.
N.C. Heikin’s “Sound of Redemption: The Frank Morgan Story” (6 p.m. Aug. 17) profiles the son of an Ink Spot, acolyte of Charlie Parker, junkie, bank robber, San Quentin inmate, and dearly missed alto sax virtuoso. George Clinton has yet to pass, but his legacy of ripping off musicians – paying them with drugs – is a letdown. “Tear the Roof Off: The Untold Story of Parliament Funkadelic” (8:30 p.m. Aug. 12 and 8:15 p.m. Aug. 13) is an ambivalent biopic about an impresario of id-liberated concert tours. One chick-funk spin-off album was “Invasion of the Booty Snatchers.” Director Bobby J. Brown, who plays a cop on TV, earlier documented the unfair reputation of pit bulls.
“Agents of Change: Black Students and the Transformation of the American University” (6:30 p.m. Sept. 1) supplies vital footnotes to Black Lives Matter movement and guns-on-campus headlines. Participants recall a five-month strike at San Francisco State University in 1968, and the 36-hour building takeover at Cornell University in 1969. After the Q&A with co-directors Frank Dawson and Abby Ginzberg, there’s a reception sponsored by the Reva and David Logan Foundation that granted $198,000 to this highly recommended documentary.
“Spirits of Rebellion: Black Cinema from UCLA” (3 p.m. Aug. 27) diligently documents the independent scene known as the Los Angeles Rebellion launched in the late sixties. Zeinabu irene Davis honors Haile Gerima, Julie Dash, Jamaa Fanaka and others. Black Harvest will show Davis’s own “Compensation” (1999) and Charles Burnett’s “To Sleep With Anger” (1990) with Danny Glover.
“This is Not Chiraq” (8:30 p.m. Aug. 19 and 8:30 p.m. Aug. 24) is a rough-edged but promising TV series pilot directed by Lawrence Lee Wallace. The title bluntly rebukes Spike Lee’s “Chi-Raq,” also set and shot here. Two drug gangs – Black Hustlers and Spanish Angels – are at war. Conflicting values divide two families. Writer-producer William Pierce transcends his prior Black Harvest entries stocked with drug lords, corporate hackers, hired assassins and special forces.
“Jerico” (6 p.m. August 20 and 5 p.m. Aug. 21) is billed as an “audacious Civil Rights-era comedy.” This earnest yet flippant tale of inter-racial redemption is mostly set in a Mississippi town on the day President Johnson signs the Civil Rights Act. Chicago native Seckeita Lewis takes fewer comic risks than Spike Lee, but elicits just as many winces. Irma P. Hall, in a supporting role, is scheduled to appear at both screenings. So is screenwriter Brandon Lewis, the director’s husband who plays two characters and impersonate a third in white-face.
Bill Stamets is a local freelance film critic.