Thursday, November 10, 2016

"Pioneers of African-American Cinema" coming to the Cinematheque

[Press release from the Cleveland Cinematheque.]

The Cleveland Institute of Art Cinematheque presents “Pioneers of African-American Cinema,” a four-program, eight-movie film series running November 12 through December 18. Details are below.
All of the films will show in the Peter B. Lewis Theater of the Cleveland Institute of Art, 11610 Euclid Avenue. Admission to each program is $10; Cinematheque members, those with CIA or CSU I.D.s, and those age 25 & under $7. For further information, visit or call (216) 421-7450.
November 12 – December 18  (4 different programs)
“Pioneers of African-American Cinema” is a major film history project undertaken by Kino Lorber, a New York film distribution company. This initiative sought to collect, restore, and re-release short and feature length films made by independent black filmmakers during the early part of the 20th century—primarily from the 1920s through the 1940s. These so-called “race” films were financed, produced, written, directed, distributed, and exhibited by people of color. This movie industry, largely centered in eastern cities, paralleled Hollywood’s, though on a much smaller scale.
     The pioneers of African-American cinema tackled subjects that were mostly shunned by Hollywood: interracial romance, racism, religion, spiritual salvation and damnation, lynching. They also cultivated visual and narrative styles that were uniquely their own. Some of these filmmakers are now well known, like Oscar Micheaux, the prolific “D.W. Griffith of the race film,” and Spencer Williams. “Pioneers of African-American Cinema” includes films by both men, but also by others who were forgotten until now. Though the bulk of the “Pioneers” films are available only on DVD or Blu-ray as part of a five-disc Kino Lorber box set, some of the key movies in the collection have been transferred to DCP for theatrical showings. We will show eight of them in this eye-opening series.
SAT        11/12     5:00 PM                WITHIN OUR GATES & short
SAT        11/19     5:00 PM                THE BLOOD OF JESUS & HELL-BOUND TRAIN
SUN       12/11     6:30 PM                DIRTY GERTIE FROM HARLEM U.S.A. & short
SUN       12/18     6:30 PM                BIRTHRIGHT & short

Saturday, November 12, at 5:00 pm
Pioneers of African-American Cinema
New Digital Restoration!
USA, 1920, Oscar Micheaux
The earliest surviving feature by the most famous maker of “race” films, Oscar Micheaux (1884-1951), is also the earliest surviving feature directed by an African American. (It’s a silent movie shown here with a new recorded score by Paul D. Miller, aka DJ Spooky.) Made as an angry retort to the overt racism in D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation, Within Our Gates follows an educated mixed-race woman as she tries to raise funds in the North for an all-black school in the South. Micheaux condemns attitudes and behaviors on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line, and some theaters refused to show the movie’s more inflammatory passages. The movie was added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 1992. “A special film from a special director…Deserves to be seen by a wide and a diverse audience.” –Dennis Schwartz. Preceded at 5:00 by Ebony Film Corp.’s 11-min. comedy Two Knights of Vaudeville (1915). Cleveland revival premiere. DCP. Total 84 min.
Saturday, November 19, at 5:00 pm
Pioneers of African-American Cinema
New Digital Restoration!
USA, 1941, Spencer Williams
Actor Spencer Williams (1893-1969), best known for playing Andy in the Amos ‘n’ Andy TV show, also starred in and directed one of the most successful “race” films of all time, The Blood of Jesus. Set in a rural village, the film focuses on a dying woman whose soul is being fought over by both an angel of God and an agent of Satan. The latter lures her to a decadent jazz club. Preceded at 5:00 by Hell-Bound Train, a 1930 silent (with music track) by James and Eloyce Gist, husband and wife evangelicals who used the movie to supplement their sermons. The Devil also appears in their film—at the throttle of a train carrying sinners to perdition. The Village Voice notes that Hell-Bound Train “suggests a Fundamentalist Snowpiercer, the cars of the locomotive populated by bootleggers, drunks, pickpockets, and the (premarital) sex-crazed.” Cleveland revival premiere. DCP. Total 106 min.
Sunday, December 11, at 6:30 pm
Pioneers of African-American Cinema
New Digital Restoration!
USA, 1946, Spencer Williams
This unauthorized adaptation of the W. Somerset Maugham story that became the classic movies Sadie Thompson and Rain tells of an amoral Harlem nightclub “entertainer” who flees to a Caribbean island. There an insistent Christian missionary tries to reform her. Director Williams plays a voodoo fortuneteller—in drag! Preceded at 6:30 by Williams’ Hot Biskits (1931), a 10-min. comedy about mini-golf. Cleveland revival premiere. DCP. Total 70 min.
Sunday, December 18, at 6:30 pm
Pioneers of African-American Cinema
New Digital Restoration!
USA, 1938, Oscar Micheaux
In this sound drama by seminal African American filmmaker Oscar Micheaux (see 11/12 at 5 pm), a Harvard-educated black man returns to the segregated 1930s South to establish a school. There he encounters racist attitudes and family strife. Preceded at 6:30 by Michaeux’s 18-min. Darktown Revue (1931), a panoply of Harlem Renaissance nightclub and vaudeville acts, including comedians, a choir, and a bizarre African American monologist in blackface. Cleveland revival premiere. DCP. Total 91 min.

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