You'll recall just about a year ago when we alerted you to a fundraising campaign to support an ambitious restoration of early works of black cinema in the USA called "Pioneers of African American Cinema" - an effort that would showcase the works of such influential figures as Oscar Micheaux, Spencer Williams, Zora Neale Hurston, James and Eloyce Gist, and others in a digitally-restored package of films that includes 8 feature films, several shorts, fragments of "lost" films, and rare documentary footage.
Context would beprovided by videotaped interviews with film historians, performing artists, archivists, and filmmakers, who will discuss the history and enduring influence of these nearly-forgotten innovators.
A flagship projects of Kickstarter's Film Preservation and Restoration Initiative, which launched a year ago, the restoration is complete, and, thanks to Kino Lorber,"Pioneers of African-American Cinema" will be shown in special screenings at Film Forum in NYC on February 14 and 15,March 6 and 7
The campaign supported the creation of HD masters (transferred from archival elements preserved by several leading archives, including the Library of Congress), as well as the production of interviews, and the recording of new scores for the silent films.
Working with contemporary classical, hip-hop, and techno artists, executive producer Paul D. Miller (aka DJ Spooky) curated contemporary musical scores for the silent films encouraging viewers to look at film history with fresh eyes and ears, and perceive a more seamless transition between the history of film and our modern digital media era. Although for those who prefer a more traditional viewing experience, historically-accurate keyboard scores will also be provided.
"Pioneers of African-American Cinema" is curated by Charles Musser (Yale University, co-editor of "Oscar Micheaux and His Circle: African-American Filmmaking and Race Cinema of the Silent Era") and Jacqueline Najuma Stewart (University of Chicago, author of "Migrating To the Movies: Cinema and Black Urban Modernity"), who will edit a 40-page booklet of program notes.
Below you'll find the program lineup for the Film Forum screening series:
FEBRUARY 14 SUN
- "The Blood of Jesus" and "Hell-Bound Train"
"The Blood of Jesus" (1941, Spencer Williams) Shot by her husband, a young Sister travels to the proverbial crossroads, facing the Devil himself. First feature for actor/director Williams, later the Amos of TV’s Amos and Andy. "Hell-Bound Train" (c. 1931, James and Eloyce Gist) home-grown evangelical surrealism, as a horned devil works the throttle of a symbolic locomotive, amid such deadly sins as dancing, gambling, and debauchery. Silent, with recorded music by Samuel Waymon (Ganja and Hess). Restored by S. Torriano Berry for the Library of Congress. DCP restorations. 1:00 ONLY
FEBRUARY 15 MON
- "Within Our Gates"
(1919, Oscar Micheaux) When a young woman (“race film” super-star Evelyn Preer) gets swept up in the Great Migration from rural South to the big city, she makes discoveries about her own identity. Micheaux’s earliest surviving feature – or of any African American director. Silent, with recorded music by D.J. Spooky. Plus "Two Knights of Vaudeville" (1916), featuring a long-forgotten Black comedy team. Silent, with recorded music by Donald Sosin. DCP restorations. 7:00 ONLY
MARCH 6 SUN
(1939, Oscar Micheaux) An idealistic Harvard grad returns to the segregated South to establish a grade school, encountering opposition from both races. With Ethel Moses, aka the “Black Harlow,” and a bevy of moonlighting Cotton Club dancers. Plus "Darktown Revue" (1931), Micheaux’s jaw-dropping spin on the minstrel show. DCP restorations. 1:10
MARCH 7 MON
- "Dirty Gertie From Harlem U.S.A."
(1946, Spencer Williams) In this unauthorized retelling of Maugham’s Rain, nightclub chantootsie Francine Everett arrives on a Caribbean island to “entertain” the GI’s and locals, inciting the wrath of a self-righteous missionary. Director Williams appears in drag as a voodoo fortuneteller – inexplicably. Restored by Southern Methodist University. Plus Williams’ recently-rediscovered HOT BISKITS (1929), comedy about a high-stakes game of mini-golf. DCP restorations. 7:00