Now under way at the Gene Siskel Film Center, the 24th Annual Black Harvest Film Festival continues through Aug. 30 with screenings of movies about African Americans and the African diaspora and post-show discussions with their makers. Here’s a look at five worth seeing, all made in Chicago:
8:30 p.m. Aug, 10, 8 p.m. Aug. 13
By the time former Marshall High School hoops sensation Keifer Sykes was playing his last college game with Wisconsin-Green Bay, one of his ex-teammates was doing hard time and another was in a wheelchair after being shot.
Sykes’ former coach, Shawn Harrington, was also in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the waist down. In January of 2014, Harrington was driving his daughter to school and was stopped at a red light when a man pulled out a handgun and fired. The coach leaned across his seat to protect his daughter and was hit by two bullets.
Twenty years earlier, when Harrington was a player at Marshall, he was featured in the documentary “Hoop Dreams.” Now, he appears in a film that’s not directly connected to that legendary documentary but is something of a spiritual sequel.
“Chi-Town” covers a five-year period of Keifer Sykes’ life, from his senior year at Marshall through his illustrious career as an undersized (he’s listed at 5-11) point guard with amazing court sense and serious hops. (Sykes has a 45-inch vertical leap, and some of his dunks will take your breath away.)
Director Nick Budabin does a magnificent job of taking us along on Keifer’s journey, with the stark contrasts between life as a hoops star and local celebrity when he’s at college — and the world he returns to on his frequent visits back home to the Southeast Side of Chicago, where he has a child of his own and is also a father figure to a number of young cousins.
We come to know and care about Keifer’s family and his friends, many of whom speak of how dangerous it is simply to go out in a group of four or more, because someone will assume you’re part of a gang.
This is a beautifully photographed, thoroughly engrossing, sobering but also inspirational piece of work. Rating: ★★★1⁄2
‘The G Force’
3 p.m. Aug. 12, 6 p.m. Aug. 14
Most of us know someone who was primarily raised by a grandparent(s) — or a grandparent who was thrust into the role of parent due to the parents’ substance abuse, incarceration, death, mental illness or child neglect.
Watching Pamela Sherrod Anderson’s simple, straightforward and powerful “The G Force” only serves to reinforce our faith in these wonderful, dedicated, selfless individuals who are singing lullabies, packing school lunches, attending parent-teacher conferences and taking on all the headaches and joys of raising young children at an age when they should be taking it easy and enjoying the sunset years.
Anderson’s subjects include the indefatigable Ellen Robinson, a 70-year-old raising her teenage grandson Patrick, who has made some mistakes but is trying to do right by his grandmother.
“I didn’t question the Lord,” says Ellen about taking on this responsibility. “Because He knows just how much you can bear.”
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Then there’s Georgenna Fischetti, who’s been raising 6 ½-year-old granddaughter Martha since the child was born.
“When I got [Martha], she weighed four and a half pounds,” says Georgenna. “Mom didn’t do what she needed to do to get clean.”
We also meet a granddaughter who is now in her 20s, and was also raised by Georgenna and her husband Bob when she was young.
Thank God for the grandparents. Rating: ★★★1⁄2
8:30 p.m. Aug. 17, 8:15 p.m. Aug. 21
In this fictional gem, writer and producer Roberta Jones and director Logan Hall spin the intriguing story of a man who strikes a Faustian bargain, becomes drunk on selfish wish-fulfillment and loses sight of what matters.
Levenix Riddle is outstanding as Neal, a talented but struggling illustrator who is given the ability to control his destiny (and the fates of others) through mystical powers handed down through generations of West-African griots, or storytellers.
Quite simply put, if Neal draws something in his notebook and signs his name to the illustration, that thing will happen.
When his buddy laments how a beautiful co-worker doesn’t even notice him, Neal draws a picture of the two kissing — and it happens.
Low on funds, Neal draws a pic of himself withdrawing a thick stack of cash from the ATM — and bingo, the cash is there when he actually goes to an ATM.
Mackenzie Chinn does fine work as Neal’s love interest, Tina, who is startled and not altogether happy when Neal reveals his secret to her. Things take a dark turn and reach the point of possible tragedy, and now Neal faces a life-and-death decision.
This is a well-paced, good-looking film with some absolutely gorgeous animation and fine performances from the two leads and the supporting cast. Rating: ★★★
‘The Color of Art’
5 p.m. Aug. 18
What a glorious feast for the eyes and the soul.
David Weathersby’s “The Color of Art” is an insightful, enlightening and engaging look at artists young and old who are a part of Chicago’s African-American creative community.
We see the works and hear the words of brilliant artists such as RJ Eldridge, Jesse Howard and Shyvette Williams — and we also learn about the ecosystem of artists, gallery owners and collectors, whether they own 100 pieces of art or are just getting into the collecting game.
Howard sounds like he’s delivering a master class in arts education (without even trying) every time he talks about the nature of art and the goal of the artist and the relationship between the artist and the collector.
And we travel through the decades with the South Side Community Art Center in Bronzeville, which opened in 1940 as the first black art museum in the country and remains open and thriving all these years later. Rating: ★★★
8:30 p.m. Aug. 23 (returns to the Film Center Sept. 14-20)
The railroad is tearing down 85 acres of homes.
You gotta go. Here’s an offer so you can move and find another place to live.
But you gotta go.
Though it sounds like the premise of a movie from the 1930s, David Schalliol’s documentary “The Area” takes place over a five-year period in the 2010s.
With the backing of the Chicago City Council and a number of business concerns, the Norfolk Southern Railroad expanded its intermodal freight terminal into the Englewood neighborhood — systematically bulldozing homes as longtime residents packed up their belongings and headed elsewhere.
They’re told they can go right away or they can wait until the bulldozer reaches their front porch a year or two down the road, but one way or another they have to leave.
“The Area” focuses on a number of families and longtime residents — most prominently Deborah Payne, who has lived in the neighborhood for some 30 years and is so fiercely attached to it (even with all its problems) that she almost seems incapable of leaving.
By January 2016, only a handful of families had yet to move. In an unforgettable scene, Deborah walks the streets in the midst of a blizzard, which has the effect of making the area look beautiful and haunting at the same time. She finally spots one other soul trudging through the snow, and nearly hugs the life out of him. Rating: ★★★