Why This Director?: Between the recent Black Film Canon praising him and his recent rediscovery of sorts, it was time for a Gerima examination, especially after seeing…
My Last Experience Was…: Ashes and Embers, a viciously sad movie about trauma with a lot of beauty in it too.
What Did I Watch: Harvest 3000 Years, Bush Mama, and Sankofa (so all the remaining features minus Teza since I’ve been watching too many modernish movies for this).
Where Does He Fit: Harvest 3000 Years feels designed to put the viewer off with an opening consisting of someone saying “Hmmmm” repeatedly, but this hides the intelligence behind the techniques used, the Bela Tarr approach of people doing something slow and miserable in black and white. I desperately wish this would be restored, because the images seem like they would be very pretty, but I am a bit more torn on the sound work, which feels irritating in a way that may have been the intent (these people, after all, are essentially slaves, and the cast talks very little for a while) but…repetitive nature noises and occasional music seem like an odd choice to illustrate that, no? This is the rare case of me wishing I could have an explanation straight from the director’s mouth of intent, as the images just look as if they were put together carefully (lots of animal acting) yet they look so casual.
The camera work on Bush Mama was done by Charles Burnett, and while I haven’t seen anything he has done, everything I have heard about Killer of Sheep leads me to say “makes sense,” with the opening images being innocuous enough but having a goddamn wall of sound related to welfare and police reports that makes them hard to watch and hear, especially when our leading lady, Dorothy (Barbarao AKA Barbara O. Jones) gets her purse stolen by some horrible child and has to deal with a bunch of people yelling at her about her supposed drinking, complete with a veteran husband T.C., who has been arrested for a crime he did not commit, leaving her with a daughter to take care of. (You could view him, in a way, as a sort of precursor to Ashes and Embers.) The issue here is that unlike the long haze of trauma of AaE, Dorothy and T.C. wind up becoming deeply radicalized, with the formal means being used to show what it is like to be a poor, black woman in a system that is expressly set up to punish that. Everything is loud and gritty and shit just happens out of nowhere. Masterful stuff.
Sankofa is a film that I desperately wish would be restored, as the quality I saw it in was pretty unacceptable and made moments like our leading lady’s entrance feel rather muted, and the brightness of the colors promises quality in the cinematography in the same way that Ashes and Embers has a distinctive orange palette. Still, no taking away from the disconcerting mood of the photo shoot where our black model Mona looks vaguely like a white woman in her blonde wig and is sexually urged on by the cameraman. Then the time travel kicks in, and things get really fucking spooky, an education in slavery and how we must learn from the past in order to eradicate racism. Shame the human face’s nuances have been totally nulled, because I have a suspicion that Oyafunmike Ogunlano’s performance is just as great as the leads of BM/AaE, and the camera loves her in more ways than one.
Most Valuable Asset: Rage and righteousness.
Most Excited For: Teza.
Coming Up Next: Writer/director but mostly the former, Nicole Holofcener.