The Gene Siskel Film Center’s
Black Harvest Film Festival:
It’s Not All Will Smith!
Special for FILMS FOR TWO® By Belinda Silber
Chicago International Black Harvest Film Festival, like all film fests, is filled with mind-numbing, pretentious cinema as well as with movies that you remain in your heart and head for weeks. My only question to the organizers is why “International” when there is only one film from outside of the United States on the program. Despite that, there are a host of movies available for every film lover's palate: high-budget and low-budget and drama, comedy and documentary, among other genres.
This year I saw four outstanding films.
KINGS OF THE EVENING is a wonderful period piece staring Black movie legends Lynn Whitfield, Willard E. Pugh, Glynn Turman, Lou Meyers, and University of Chicago graduate Linara Washington (among others). Super male model Tyson Beckford is the co-executive producer and star.
This Depression-era drama focuses on the ritual of a weekly "swanking" contest, which involves poor men getting dressed in their Sunday best—even if they have to beg, borrow or steal it—in order to strut or "swank" around to the audience's delight. In the end, the winner takes home a grand prize of $5 or a can of peaches. But the ultimate grand prize, for the man who wins, is to be “King of the Evening,” an honor that most times comes with female companionship and the envy of the other men. The event is based on a South African culture made famous by the Swenkas of the Zulu tribe. The film is heart-warming, and puts a historically context of modern day “swagger.”
KINGS OF THE EVENING has won five major awards so far this year: The San Francisco Black Film Festival’s Audience Award, The Los Angeles Pan African Film Festival’s Oscar Micheaux Award, and The San Diego Film Festival’s Best Supporting Actor Award (Glynn
Turman) and the Best Picture and Best Director honors (both for Andrew P. Jones.)
LIBERTY KID is an outstanding movie, and I pray it will find a distributor. This is the story of two friends in New York and how their lives are affected by the events of 9/11. The story focuses on Derrick and Tico, who both lose their jobs at the Statue of Liberty. Derrick aspires to a better life than his in Brooklyn, but as the two friends try to find their bearings and earn a living, they are torn in increasingly different directions. There are no false notes in this movie, and I give it my highest recommendation.
LIBERTY KID won Best Film at the 2007 New York Latino Film Festival.
THE BLACK LIST, VOLUME ONE is an HBO production, written and produced by former New York Times film critic Elvis Mitchell. Mitchell interviews prominent African-Americans in all fields, including Zane (an erotic writer), Thelma Golden (a curator), Suzanne-Lori Parks (a playwright and screenwriter), Richard Parsons (Chairman of Time Warner), Slash (a member of Guns and Roses), and Faye Wattleton (former president of Planned Parenthood).
Mitchell has stated that he is trying to reclaim the word “blacklist” and hopes to be able to do a volume Two.
THE BLACK LIST is just one part of a multifaceted project that includes a traveling exhibit, portrait book, and a user-generated campaign designed for multiple platforms.
By far the most disturbing film in BHFF ’08 was
TROUBLE THE WATER, winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival. This film follows aspiring rapper Kimberly Roberts (Black Kold Medina) and her family and friends during the Katrina disaster. Kim has a new video camera, and she is going to film during the hurricane. She starts filming on the day the 9th ward is told that the storm will be coming in a few hours. She playfully interviews neighbors, children, and even a drunken uncle.
As it starts to rain, Kim continues her commentary and filming; quickly realizing that she has been plunged into hell. As the hurricane rages and the floodwaters fill their world and the screen, Kim and her husband Scott continue to film, documenting their harrowing voyage to higher ground—and the dramatic rescues of friends and neighbors.
What happens is a story that only can be told by the people who live in the 9th ward. It’s raw and hard but these people are survivors.
THIS FILM IS A “MUST SEE.”
Belinda Silber is a Chicago native who earned a B.A. in Liberal Arts from DePaul University, worked in banking for several years, went to culinary school and taught cooking to convicts. She was recently certified to teach English as a second language.
Silber has studied creative writing at Northwestern U. and taken film courses taught by Chicago critics Roger Ebert and Michael Wilmington. She knows her favorite
films—THE GODFATHER, THE GODFATHER
LIST, CITIZEN KANE, ALL ABOUT EVE, SUNSET BLVD and THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL— so well that she can do “Movie-oke” with them, quoting long passages from memory.
Belinda is a major “foodie. She was married in a restaurant and has met famous chefs around the world, visiting their kitchens. She and husband Ken travel a lot. In recent years they had a wilderness vacation in Africa, and they also spent a month in Italy. They are now planning a Costa Rica vacation.