Hollywood is hardly the only place to find talented filmmakers.
"What American artist has not caricatured us? What wit has not laughed at us in our wretchedness? Has not ridiculed and condemned us?" Those were the thoughts of a group of dissatisfied Black New Yorkers on the eve of the Civil War, and though more than 100 years have passed, Black images in art and film continue to stir strong sentiments. Consider, for example, the continuing debate over films such as Precious and The Blind Side.
For the most part, controversy and conversation surround well-funded, mass-marketed fare, overshadowing equally thoughtful work that also deserves our careful attention. Many worthwhile films are made independently, beyond the boundaries of Hollywood convention and constraints. Some of the most provocative and satisfying Black films, including Charles Burnett's Killer of Sheep, Julie Dash's Daughters of the Dust and Haile Gerima's Ashes and Embers are independent creations.
Just as noteworthy films about Black subjects are not solely of interest to Black authences, nor are they solely the productions of Black filmmakers. Here is a highlight reel of screen artists and activists whose work shows that excellence is not easily categorized. Their output ranges from hard-hitting documentaries, to straightforward narratives, to experimental creations that resemble jazz and abstract art as much as they resemble a typical film.
Benjamin Kränzen and Kembrr
Names: Benjamin Franzen and Kembrew McLeod
Hometowns: Dubuque, Iowa and Virginia Beach, Va.
Base of Operations: Atlanta, Ga. and Iowa City, Iowa
Our Works Include: Freedom of Expression (educational documentary, Media Education Foundation)
Current Project: Copyright Criminals (broadcast documentary, PBS)
Oar Mission: Copyright Criminals examines the creative and commercial value of musical sampling, including the related debates over artistic expression, copyright law and (of course) money. The film showcases many of hip-hop music's early figures such as Public Enemy, De La Soul, and Digital Underground, and also provides an in-depth look at artists who have been sampled, such as Clyde Stubblefield (James Brown's drummer and the world's most sampled musician), as well as commentary by another highly sampled musician, funk legend George Clinton.
Filmmaker(s) who Influenced os most: Jean-Luc Godard and the Maysles Brothers
A good film we've watched lately (or a good film «ve wateh often): F for Fake, directed by Orson Welles
To Fiad Oat More: www.copyrightcriminals.com
Name: Christopher Harris
Hometown: St. Louis, Mo.
Base of Operations: Orlando, Fk
My Works Include: sffl/here (2001), Reckless Eyeballing (2004), Sunshine State (Extended Forecast) (2007), 28.IV.81 (Bedouin Spark) (2009)
Current Project: My current projects include More Notes on Virginia, a three-screen digital video installation on the meta-history of slavery in the United States and a set of four 16mm experimental films inspired by the Action of Toni Morrison, Gayl Jones, Ishmael Reed and Nathaniel Mackey.
My Mission: In my films I use unorthodox approaches to editing, sound/image relationships and cinematography to suggest themes related to African American (i.e. American) history, identity and memory.
Filmmaker(s) who influenced me most: I tend to be influenced by specific films rather than by any one filmmaker's body of work. Films like Ernie Gehr's splendidly minimalist meditation on the legacy of the Holocaust, Signal-Germany on the Air (1985) and James Benning's experimental landscape study Four Corners (1997) were films that I saw for the first time as I was making still/here and their influence on certain aspects of that film are undeniable. In some ways, the influence of musicians on my work has been equal to that oí filmmakers. Miles Davis and Roscoe Mitchell were particularly important models for still/here because of the way their music often employs silence and attenuation as ordering principles. …