The 2022 Black Harvest Film Festival has been dedicated to my friend and colleague, Sergio Mims, who passed away last month. The co-founder of the annual Chicago event would be overjoyed to see what’s about to unfold at the Gene Siskel Film Center starting today and running through November 20th (before a virtual component launches from November 21-27th). Sergio made amplification of young, POC talent not just a job but a passion, and this year’s line-up has a wonderful array of local product, modern classics, and films that made waves at other fests. There will be 19 feature films, 4 short film programs, and 15 different events with in-person talent. There will also be what’s sure to be a moving tribute to Mims that I’ll write a report on here. Get tickets for that. You don’t want to miss it.
As for new projects, I’d like to mention some of the short films that are playing at this year’s fest. Shorts have always been a way for new talent to break into the business, and so I love that BH starts with a selection of shorts in an event hosted by LeeAnn Trotter that will also include a Legacy Award for Chicago casting director Sharon King. The four shorts under the banner “Black Harvest Feast” offer a sampler plate of what’s to come at the festival—the standout being “Alone Together,” starring the legendary Marla Gibbs as a woman who can’t figure out why her family has stopped visiting her during Covid. It’s a moving reminder of the emotional impact of the pandemic.
“Alone Together” is also a part of a strong shorts program that plays on November 8th and 12th and includes Donald Conley’s lyrical “Matriarch” and the touching “Joy’s Garden” from Ngwatilo Mawiyoo. “Matriarch” features a Chicago filmmaker doing something I wish more filmmakers would do—getting their elders to merely talk about their lives. There are so many stories out there to be told, and some of them are in our own households. The touching grace of “Matriarch” segues nicely into “Joy’s Garden,” a tale of a girl who tries to rebuild something lost in her estranged father’s apartment. This whole program, titled “Figures & Guardians,” is emblematic of what it feels like Black Harvest stands for: intimate studies of the human condition.
Black Harvest has several films this year that played other fests and will be reviewed fully when they’re theatrically released but have been hit in dispatches or on release in other cities. You can find quotes and links to their coverage below:
“Nanny” (November 15th)
“Jusu draws natural performances from her cast, especially Diop and Walls, who have remarkable chemistry. As the requirements of the supernatural half of the story start to weigh on the film, it becomes less effective tonally, but Diop is up to every challenge this complex project presents her. She’s a revelation here, wonderfully present in every scene while capturing a character whose heart is thousands of miles away.” – Brian Tallerico
“The Inspection” (November 5th)
“We meet French almost a decade after being thrown out of his mother’s (Gabrielle Union) house when he was 16 and came out of the closet. He’s homeless now, estranged from his mother in New Jersey. He goes to her to get his birth certificate, which he needs to join the Marines. He’s decided that this is the place to go to give his life meaning, and I liked that Bratton doesn’t look down on this decision—after all, he made it. Yes, Ellis shouldn’t have to risk his life as a soldier to find purpose, but Bratton and Pope allow us to understand how he reached this point in a way that doesn’t feel reductive or manipulative.” – Brian Tallerico
“The African Desperate” (November 12th)
“Martine Syms has a singular voice, flowing with creativity. Using her own background as an artist, Syms has taken artistic academia and the whiplash of exiting the comfort of school and churned it into a jungle juice of weed, ketamine, and self-discovery.” – Peyton Robinson
RESTORATIONS AND ANNIVERSARY SCREENINGS:
Don’t miss restored versions of “Buck and the Preacher” and “Cooley High,” neither of which were reviewed by Roger, along with these two undeniable Spike Lee classics:
“Malcolm X” (November 19th on 35 mm!)
“Walking into "Malcolm X," I expected an angrier film than Spike Lee has made. This film is not an assault but an explanation, and it is not exclusionary; it deliberately addresses all races in its audience. White people, going into the film, may expect to meet a Malcolm X who will attack them, but they will find a Malcolm X whose experiences and motives make him understandable and finally heroic. Reasonable viewers are likely to conclude that, having gone through similar experiences, they might also have arrived at the same place.” – Roger Ebert
“Chi-Raq” (November 7th)
“"Chi-Raq" is a modern-day musical satire about violence and guns and men and women and sex and power. Its title is a slang term coined by residents of Chicago's violence-plagued South side, empowered by statistics showing that more Americans have died from gunshots in the last twelve years than soldiers involved in the American occupation of Iraq. The movie is angry and horrified and mournful but also warm, sensual, life affirming, and so blisteringly funny that critics and political commentators are sure to blast it as distasteful.” – Matt Zoller Seitz