The 2009 International Black DocuFest is taking place in Atlanta from September 17 to September 19. The lineup looks very good and the screenings and panel discussions will take place at great venues including the Hammonds House Museum and the High Museum of Art. Of particular interest is a documentary about the history of race movies in Hollywood.
Can’t wait for Spike Lee’s (concert?) film featuring the performance of the Broadway show Passing Strange. Take a look at the trailer below.
Tonight, Barry Jenkins’ film Medicine for Melancholy screened for the first time in Atlanta as part of the the Pan-African Film Festival during the National Black Arts Festival.. However, it was my second time seeing it. I first saw on cable on demand several months ago. When I saw it then, I wasn’t inspired to write a review. At first I thought it was my age–perhaps as a thirty-something I couldn’t relate to a film about two twenty-somethings having an extended one night stand. But seeing it for the second time, in a theater full of people as part of the National Black Arts Festival, I realized that this film was not meant to be viewed in isolation. It’s about kindred spirits coming together, albeit only briefly. And this time, I was able to see the film with fresh eyes and more enjoyment because I was with kindred spirits. Wyatt Cenac does an excellent job as Micah who’s wrestling with his identity as a black man in San Francisco, a city going through rapid gentrification. He has an immediate connection with and attraction to Jo, played by Tracey Heggins, who wears Vans and who doesn’t mind biking around the city with Micah, riding merry-go-rounds, and dancing to indy music in a club where they are the only people of color. Micah struggles with his predicament as an “only,” somewhere physically and mentally outside mainstream black culture, and reaches for Jo as a life-line. But she does not view the world with the same racial lens. She’s also unavailable, struggling with the fact that she is cheating on her boyfriend. Micah, himself is somewhat unavailable since he has just come out of a relationship. There’s no Hollywood ending and there’s no expectation that this is more than a one-night stand. But perhaps it’s enough that Micah really isn’t an “only” after all. And that’s what’s best about finding kindred spirits.
The 2009 National Black Arts Festival will open in Atlanta on Wednesday, July 29 and run through August 2. A featured part of the festival includes the Pan-African Film Festival. Highlights include a retrospective with Robert Townsend on July 30, a screening of Gospel Hill on July 31, and a screening of Medicine for Melancholy on August 1, including a panel discussion with director Barry Jenkins, journalist Farai Chideya, Bold as Love blogger Rob Fields, and URB ALT founder Boston Fielder.
Check it all out.
Given all the issue black women have their hair, I am eagerly awaiting the new Chris Rock documentary Good Hair which is supposed to be released in October. Take a look at this video of Rock talking about the movie which premiered at Sundance.
In the summer of 1989, the world was treated to a signature Spike Lee Joint–the intensive, reflective, reflexive, and powerful Do The Right Thing. This past Saturday night, Atlanta celebrated the 20th anniversary of this iconic film with a screening at the legendary Fox Theater, followed by a Q&A with Spike, producer Monty Ross, and two of the film’s actors Joie Lee and Bill Nunn.
I was only 17 when this film first premiered. Watching it for the (?)th time on the Fox Theater’s huge screen, I was, as always, struck by its power and significance. Honestly, I don’t know that this film could or would be released today. Set on the hottest day in Brooklyn, New York, it explores the racial tensions bubbling to the surface amongst the neighborhood’s black, white, Hispanic, and Asian inhabitants, culminating in the death of Bill Nunn’s character Radio Rahim and a riot not unlike the Watts riots of the 1960’s and the 1992 L.A. riots which followed only three years after the film’s release. Raising many questions about racism and racial tolerance, the film offers no concrete answers or resolutions, but only Ossie Davis’ prophetic advice to Spike Lee’s character Mookie to “always do the right thing.” During the Q&A, Spike mentioned that there was pressure on him in Hollywood to prove a solution and tidy ending to the film, but he held fast to his vision, allowing the audience to ponder the issues raised and discuss them. Although Spike has never won an Oscar for his films, he says his “reward” has been the fact that this film has and is being taught in universities and institutions worldwide. The panelists also mentioned how many doors Spike has opened and influenced younger filmmakers of color such as John Singleton, Gina Prince-Blythewood, F. Gary Gray, and Darnell Martin. Certainly, Do the Right Thing has a place in cinematic history for decades to come.
Departures is a Japanese film that won the 2008 Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film, but just recently opened in US theaters. Perhaps fittingly, given the events of this week (the deaths of Ed McMahon, Farah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson), Departures is a movie about death. But it’s not about dying. It is a film concerning the dead, but it’s more concerned with the living.
The protagonist Daigo is a cellist living with his wife in Tokyo. When he gets laid off from his orchestra, he decides to give up being a professional cellist and moves back to his hometown, living with his wife in his late mother’s house. Upon looking for a job, he answers a job ad for working with “departures,” no experience necessary. Thinking the job has something to do with travel, he applies for the job and is instantly hired by the “boss.” Only then does he learn that the job ad had a misprint and the job is working with the “departed.”
In Japan, when there is a death in the family, the body is prepared in front of loved ones before it is placed in a coffin and eventually cremated. Daigo’s new job is to prepare the bodies. It’s not a gruesome process as we might think here in America and does not involve embalming, but is more ritualistic, including the dressing of the body in the person’s favorite outfit and applying make-up so that the person looks their best as they pass into their new eternal life. Still, in Japanese culture, such job is considered to be the lowliest of all jobs and so Daigo’s acceptance of the work is on a trial basis and Daigo does not tell his wife exactly what he is doing. Daigo soon discovers, as “the boss” projects, that he likes the job and that he is good at it. Through this work he is able to help families through their grief and achieve a sense of purpose that he did not seemingly have before.
By moving back home and taking on this employment, Daigo is also forced to examine his feelings for his father, who abandoned him as a child, and to examine his relationship with his wife as they build their family for the future. The film is funny and disarming, and, even in the face of loss, does not leave you sad or melancholy. When we make peace with the dead and say goodbye properly, we prepare ourselves to keep living.