Black Harvest Film Festival raises number of female directors 


The 25th annual Black Harvest Film Festival will run from August 3-29 with 60 films, including 27 directed by women (an increase from last year’s festival when there were only 17 female filmmakers).
Two years ago, I interviewed Nancy Buirski, director of The Rape of Recy Taylor. The documentary was about a Black woman who was gang-raped by six white men during the Jim Crow era in the South. I bring this up because of the first film I viewed at this year’s BHFF. While it was about the rape of a young Black woman in 1944 and Jacqueline Olive’s film Always in Season is about a lynching of a young Black man in 2014 after Jim Crow; they are both similar. The reason? These are two examples of horrific treatment against people of color. I also reviewed four additional: Liz Toussaint’s American as Bean Pie, Numa Perrier’s Jezebel, Emily Harrold’s While I Breathe, I Hope, and Damon Jamal’s Last Night a DJ Saved My Life.
Jacqueline Olive’s Always in Season is a documentary about the possible 2014 hanging in North Carolina of Lennon Lacey. While family and friends are convinced he was murdered, officials dismissively claim that it was suicide. The family is in search of justice and closure as they search for the truth of what actually happened to Lacey. One of the things I noticed was the incredibly powerful and raw pictures of actual lynchings throughout the decades.The film is incredibly informative with statistics and lynching reenactments. In certain scenes, there is eerie music hummed by a deep voice, completing the mood of the film. It’s powerful; a necessary evil. Due to the graphic nature of this film, I highly recommend viewer discretion. 

American as Bean Pie

American as Bean Pie is an uplifting documentary about a young Black Muslim woman – director Liz Toussaint, herself. The Country musician tells a wonderfully bold film that encourages you to unapologetically be yourself despite societal obstacles. I appreciate the beginning as she bonds with her father over making bean pies, an American dish made by Black Muslims. Hence the clever title. She says in the film, “I’m an American. Americans listen to Country music.” There’s a realness here. Yes, she loves what she does. But she knows that racism and anti-Muslim philosophies still exist. There’s an emotional scene where she tells a heartbreaking anecdote that happened in her childhood, an experience which she carried into adulthood. Her frustrations are also shared about people’s bemusement with her passion for Country music. Footage of her past performances and rehearsals are also included which makes for a well-rounded film. Toward the end, she says, “I love Country music. I bleed Country music. But Country music doesn’t bleed me.”
Numa Perrier is a triple threat when she writes, directs and acts in Jezebel. And she does it beautifully. Based on a true story, 19-year-old Tiffany aka Jezebel (Tiffany Tenille) is introduced to a world of internet cam girls from her older sister Sabrina (Perrier) who is a phone sex operator. I enjoyed the sisterly bond between the two as they live in a shack of a Las Vegas apartment with three other roommates and Sabrina helps Jezebel gets ready for her first day. After initial apprehension when her boss asks to see her naked figure before she starts, Jezebel quickly adjusts to this new endeavor and becomes quite popular. Tenille gives a convincing performance of an uncomfortable girl, entering into a new world. I felt like I was a fly on a wall, looking into the real lives of people instead of actual characters. This is a raunchy film that not only deals with sexual content, but a film that will speak to you through others’ frustrations and pain. All of the performances were superb. For mature audiences. 
Emily Harrold’s While I Breathe, I Hope involves Bakari Sellers, a Black politician from South Carolina. The documentary follows Sellers on his campaign to become lieutenant governor. There’s suspense up to the day until the final vote is counted to see who will win. You will be on pins and needles as the final results come in. Harrold creates a succinct yet comprehensive view of a racially divided state and a young Black lawmaker who tries to make a change. 

While I Breathe, I Hope

Last Night a DJ Saved My Life  is a film where director Jamal draws out the emotions of the cast, from comedy and drama to action and suspense. Radio DJ Tony Sinclair (Cisco Reyes) is off to a slow start in life, but he has big dreams. His girlfriend Christine (Jaè) thinks otherwise and breaks up with him – live on the air – via phone. The call before, is Robin (Jasmine Burke), a suicidal girl who is in an abusive relationship. She calls the DJ and asks for advice on whether or not to leave the abuser. They become romantically involved but many twists and turns comes their way. Although it’s a slow start at the beginning, things quickly unfold and you will soon be left in suspense. It’s an amusing film that pulls at the heartstrings, leaving you rooting for the protagonist. 
This year’s BHFF is supported by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences; the Illinois Arts Council Agency; and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.
For more information on these films and more go the GSFC’s site
© Stephanie A. Taylor (7/30/19) FF2 Media
Featured image: Jacqueline Olive’s Always in Season
Photo credits: Gene Siskel Film Center

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