Preview: 24th Annual Black Harvest Film Festival

On Saturday, August 4, downtown’s Gene Siskel Film Center launches the 24th Annual Black Harvest Film Festival, “a month-long celebration of the stories, dreams, history, and legacy of African Americans and the African diaspora, as interpreted by independent filmmakers from around the U.S. and abroad.” That’s a really long way of saying there will be a whole month of really great, really diverse filmmaking from perspectives that deserve your attention.

Image courtesy of Siskel Film Center

When you’ve got a month’s worth of films to choose from, it can be kind of daunting to decide what to see when. This year’s festival features over 50 films (that includes a hefty thirty-plus shorts packaged thematically), with more than thirty filmmakers expected to be in attendance at their screenings. Here’s what we zoomed in on after perusing the packed schedule:

Ali & Cavett: The Tale of the Tapes – Muhammed Ali and Dick Cavett were an unlikely pair to become friends, but that’s just what they were for more than fifty years. In Robert S. Bader’s revealing documentary, their relationship is revealed in archival footage as well as through interviews with the people who knew them best. If you can swing the August 5 screening, filmmaker Bader and Dick Cavett himself are expected to attend. Learn more here.

A Boy. A Girl. A Dream. – Filmmaker Qasim Bashir was last in Chicago a few years ago with his film Destined, the story of two men living parallel lives and how quickly small decisions can create massive impacts in a life. That film is stands confidently in its own story, clearly the work of a filmmaker with something to say. A Boy. A Girl. A Dream. sees the filmmaker taking that confidence even further, if the clip below is any indication; beautifully filmed and emotionally fraught, it follows two dreamers figuring out how to get to where they want to be, not just where they’ll end up. Learn more here.

Chi-Town – Not to be confused with The Chi, Chi-Town is a documentary poised to rival the classic Hoop Dreams, as a south side teen navigates his natural talent in basketball and the realities of his violence-ridden neighborhood and all the odds stacked against him (including his height, at just 5’11”). As filmmaker Nick Budabin follows Keifer Sykes over the course of five years, his camera zooms out from the basketball court to the neighborhood to the broad and undeniable impact of it all on Sykes’s life. Learn more here.

The Area – Also an official selection at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, The Area gives voice to the residents of Chicago’s Englewood neighborhood as the Norfolk Southern Railway moved in to displace those living in the way of their planned economic development. With the neighborhood as much a character as the subjects of the film, it seems unlikely anyone could watch and not put themselves in the middle of all the change, as neighborhoods in every corner of the city change in the blink of an eye, for better or worse. Learn more here.

Jinn – If you’ve seen (and loved) Bo Burnham’s Eight Grade, Nijla Mu’min’s Jinn may make for a perfect double feature, as it follows a similarly vibrant young woman in search of an identity and tribe of her own. When her divorced mother converts to Islam, Summer (Zoe Renee) sees it as a next new adventure in exploring the diverse world around her. The Imam’s cute son helps, too. As with any new adventure, of course, things don’t exactly go as planned. If you’re heading to Black Harvest to soak up a diversity of world views, you can’t go wrong with Jinn. Learn more here.

Shorts Programs – Making up more than half of the films selected for the festival, short films are packaged over the course of the month according to theme. Six different programs offer five to seven films each, meaning you’ll get a feature film length’s worth of screen time, all while enjoying a variety of film styles, visions and perspectives. Ranging from a selection of international offerings to themes of love, family and the female experience, you can pick a set and bet you’ll see something you enjoy. There’s also a selection of shorts made right here in Chicago if you’re looking to support local filmmakers, too. Learn more here.

All the details on the 24th Annual Black Film Festival, including which filmmakers and special guests will be in attendance when, are here; individual tickets are available at the Siskel Center box office and online. If you’re planning to see a few selections, consider a six-film ticket pack ($55, or $30 for Film Center members), which includes a small popcorn with each ticket.

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Lisa Trifone
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