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25th Ji.hlava International Documentary Film Festival

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Black Cinema Matters

The section introduces a radical change in the perspective of the Black American narrative, which has long been dividing not only American public but is also bogged down with a lot of prejudice, ignorance and lack of empathy. The section will comprise exclusively of works by Black American filmmakers attesting to their direct experience with racism and violence. As a paradox, this authentic testimony has been marginalized or presented predominantly by other than Black American filmmakers.

The section was supported by the US Embassy in Prague.

film database

A Dream is What You Wake Up From
Describing the daily lives of three Black American families in the late 1970s, the film A Dream is What You Wake Up From, which we would now refer to as a docudrama, combines documentary footage with staged scenes. It develops on a wide range of historical, political, and social contexts that determine the relational dynamics inside and outside basic social units, all in confrontation with a world determined by the values, stereotypes, and ideals of a white majority. It is not only race that defines the protagonists of the film, but also the social roles and economic standards that they adopt.
personal program

A Dream is What You Wake Up From

Carolyn Johnson, Larry Bullard
United States / 1978 / 50 min.
section: Black Cinema Matters
AKA Mrs. George Gilbert
In 1970, Black American activist Angela Davis was forced to go underground to hide from the police and FBI prosecutions. Dozens of women who even remotely resembled Angela ended up becoming wrongfully trapped in a web of security force units, usually due to having an afro hairstyle characteristic of Angela. Combining period footage with cinematic re-enactments, this documentary dares to criticise the apathetic nature of a surveillance apparatus and the abuse of secret services who repress minorities. The element of authenticity is further enhanced by the fictionalised testimony of the former FBI agent in charge of tracking down Angela Davis as well as a retrospective reflection of his profession.   „I would not say that artistic freedom is guaranteed in the United States. There are famous cases of censored literary works throughout the 20th century.“ C. Fusco  
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AKA Mrs. George Gilbert

Coco Fusco
United States / 32 min.
section: Black Cinema Matters
An I for an I
Violence committed against Black Americans is not a phenomenon in itself but is rather linked to a number of pathologies that are evident on a global scale, be it environmental destruction, social inequality, or economic injustice. This video bricolage radically translates audio tracks, written texts, and both “stolen” and variously modified images – thus, presenting a physical and emotional experience from the position of a victim subject to brute force, together with the deliberate eradication of media coverage content. The depiction of violence is becoming an inseparable and gloomy recurring motif of our tragic existence on this planet.
personal program

An I for an I

Lawrence Andrews
United States / 1987 / 19 min.
section: Black Cinema Matters
Black Celebration
The film's reflection on the violent riots that erupted in  Black American communities of major American cities in the 1960s is strongly influenced by Guy Debord's situationism. The film's clip-like structure, in which the musical production of such 1980’s performers as Morissey and Skinny Puppy plays an important role, combines images from news programmes and poeticised lyrics during a specific reading of protest riots as a rejection of the logic of capital and the commodification of our lives. The destruction of urban space was not just an expression of anger, but a radical political gesture thrown at the establishment.   „Only African Americans can talk about issues of race. They speak from a certain position of experience. While that experience is specific, it’s not isolated or exclusive.“ T. Cokes
personal program

Black Celebration

Tony Cokes
United States / 1988 / 17 min.
section: Black Cinema Matters
Finally Got the News
This film has a 500 views limit. The exploitation of industry workers in America can be seen as just a new form of slavery that was carried over from the cotton-picking days. Black Americans make up a significant part of the workforce in some key production sectors. They are forced to work overtime while their employers have no regard for their health. The events following the formation of the League of Revolutionary Black Workers unfold in a film that seems as if it were shot only yesterday: we witness protests after a black child was shot by a police officer and manifestations of social hardship sublimating into racial hatred, but mainly we hear through various different voices the exploitation of labor that does not take skin color into account.   „[The League of Revolutionary Black Workers] was one of the most important radical movements of our century - a movement led by black revolutionaries whose vision of emancipation for all is sorely needed today.“ Dr. Robin D.G. Kelley, New York University
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Finally Got the News

Peter Gessner, Rene Lichtman, Stewart Bird
United States / 1970 / 55 min.
section: Black Cinema Matters
noimage
Fragments of Barbara McCullough is a postscript to the study of various forms of rituals, which were performed by the creator in her feature-length documentary: Shopping Bag Spirits and Freeway Fetishes: Reflections on Ritual Space (1981). Specifically, the film is a juxtaposition of scenes from the 1981 film and never-before-used shots and deleted scenes. Here, Black American artists from the LA area relate verbally and performatively to a process of improvisation and a repeated symbolic act that unleashes the hidden forces of creativity and untaps the subconscious. All in all, it’s a psychedelic, surreal experience embodying the spirit of ritual into the very medium of film through film montage, graphic elements, and applied music.   „I like my films to reflect the diversity of my background as a Black person as well as the different influences that affect me. When I do something, I am trying to show the universality of the Black experience.“ B. McCullough
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Fragments of Barbara McCullough (includes Water Ritual 1 and And Other Bits)

Barbara McCullough
United States / 1980 / 11 min.
section: Black Cinema Matters
Know Your Enemy
Since the beginning of its inception, the band Public Enemy and the entire rap scene have had to face politically motivated stereotypes, many of which were propagated in society by racially prejudiced news media. This experimental documentary, consisting of period records, testimonies of actors, and excerpts of lyrics from the rap collective, is a radical deconstruction of the ideological dimension of the popular machine, which likes to invert and rewrite the stories of music performers to suit the perspective of the majority of society. The film can therefore be seen as an ironic audiovisual appeal that follows in the spirit of the eponymous title “Know your enemy!” precisely.   „My work involves a documentary process that moves into experimental territory and I`m very invested in looking at the image, on the possibilities for the image to express something more personal than the objective idea, we usually think about when we are thinking about documentary filmmaking.“ A. Jones  
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Know Your Enemy

Art Jones
United States / 1990 / 30 min.
section: Black Cinema Matters
Suzanne Suzanne
An intimate portrait of a young Black American woman dealing with a drug addiction and long-term physical and mental abuse from her father. Only after her tyrant's death can she and her whole family face the consequences of living under pressure, which has become a never-ending story for them. This heavily personal documentary – personal even for the director herself, who is Suzanne's aunt – evokes the aesthetics of home video. Conversations carried in the middle of everyday activities form an image of an intentionally unreflected social pathology right at the moment of beginning treatment and restoring both a mutual and personal trust.„I called it that because when she was telling me about her experiences, I kept saying, ‚Oh Suzanne! Suzanne!‘“ C. Billops
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Suzanne Suzanne

Camille Billops
United States / 1977 / 25 min.
section: Black Cinema Matters
Symbiopsychotaxiplasm, Take One
A documentary documenting documentary work on a documentary – this overcomplicated description sometimes characterizes the experimental cinéma vérité film by William Greaves, a great tribute to Heisenberg’s uncertainty principle. Thanks to the parallel work of three independent crews, the audition for a fictional film taking place in Central Park changes into a thrilling experience of making a film directed by a deliberately confused director manipulating the events around him. The film crew and passers-by become the main actors, joined in one multiplied whole using an imaginative style. “When you do a reality show on TV today, you know you’re part of a show and that they’re going to start creating obstacles for you or trying to complicate the situation purposefully and consciously. Here, you’re just watching a situation where people are absolutely convinced that Bill is out of control, doesn’t know what he’s doing, and you’re a fly on the wall.” W. Greaves
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Symbiopsychotaxiplasm, Take One

William Greaves
United States / 1968 / 75 min.
section: Black Cinema Matters
Tongues Untied
This cinematic poem and voiceband in one is an audiovisual expression of the eponymous “tongues untied,” serving as a symbolic break of the silence that has plagued the Black American homosexual community for a long time. It becomes solely a manifesto for identifying a difference that has been consciously enforced between the predominantly black heterosexual majority and the alienated white gay minority. The question of race divides not only society as a whole, but also the minorities themselves all across the board. The heavily poeticised text of the film presented in an occasional rap rhythm of mixed voices is largely a self-confident commitment to an experience that is exceptional against its own will.
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Tongues Untied

Marlon Riggs
United States / 1989 / 55 min.
section: Black Cinema Matters
Vintage: Families of Value
  This cinematic “family album created over the course of five years,” as the creator himself describes it, is an intimate portrait of three groups of queer siblings. Each protagonist reflects on his own social status and his experience with being artificially labelled and treated as “different.” Though there are dialogues with relatives, the film avoids focusing on the family history and psychological profiles of the participants. Instead, it sees the director focus on the mutual interaction and self-evident solidarity of close people in small social groups where homosexuality is not a departure from the arbitrary norm, but rather a defining experience that is in many ways indisputable.
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Vintage: Families of Value

Thomas Allen Harris
United States / 1995 / 72 min.
section: Black Cinema Matters
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