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The Archaeology of Origin
Transnational Visions of Africa in a Borderless Cinema
3 Feb 2000 – 24 Feb 2000
Colina Phillips. Making Change
This film series brings together seven works by black film and video makers from Britain, Canada, France, Martinique and the US. Two of the films, Making Change and Welcome to Africville, are set in Nova Scotia. In her catalogue essay, guest curator Sheila Petty observes that, "black peoples who have had a long history of coping with dispersal through slavery, exile and migration have pushed the boundaries of "origin" by developing transnational strategies that combine nations, cultures and journeys."
The hybridizing tendencies of these films and videos extend beyond questions of national origin to blend artistic genres such as fiction, documentary, sci-fi and music video. For viewers of the concurrent James R. Shirley retrospective, this film series may serve to situate his production along a spectrum of African Diasporic practices.
Produced by MSVU Art Gallery with support from the Canada Council for the Arts.
During the final evening of screenings, film scholar Dr. Sheila Petty and visiting filmmaker Salem Mekuria (Ethiopia/US) gave a talk at the Gallery.
Read an excerpt from the catalogue...
All held on Thursday at 7:30 p.m. in Seton Academic Centre (Auditorium A), 4th floor. Free admission.
- Welcome to Africville
Dana Inkster, Canada 1999; 15 min., video
Dana Inkster is a Toronto-based filmmaker born and raised in Ottawa, Ontario. Inspired by the blaxploitation tradition and set in the now demolished community of Africville, Inkster’s montage gives a glimpse into the hearts and minds of four characters on the eve of the destruction of their community. Probing questions of sexuality and lost histories, the film is composed of character meditations and monologues that expose dislocations between societies and personal identities. The film’s haunting visual ambience combines black and white archival footage of Africville with live action. It stars the Genie-nominated Alexander Chapman (Lilies); stage, television and film veteran Kathy Imre (Shaft’s Big Score); singer/actor Amanda Strawn and Nunya Beckley in her acting debut. American singer and four-time Grammy nominee, Ms’shell Ndegeocello, composed the score for Welcome to Africville.
- The Man by the Shore
Raoul Peck, France/Canada 1993; 105 min., video
Born in Port-au-Prince, Haiti in 1953, Raoul Peck has lived in Zaire (Congo), France, Germany and the United States. In this film, it is the Duvalier regime in Haiti, a blood-stained era when whole families are wiped out. At Port-à-Piment, a little provincial town, eight-year-old Sarah and her two sisters have been left by their disgraced parents in the care of their grandmother. After a series of crises, they are forced to hide from the vengeance of Janvier, an unpredictable and violent representative of the new order. From her hiding place in an attic overlooking the barracks, Sarah witnesses atrocities that mark her for life. This story is narrated thirty years later by an adult Sarah, whose nightmares are haunted by memories of the man by the shore who put an end to her childhood.
Haile Gerima, Ghana/USA 1993; 125 min., video
Considered a major figure among African independent filmmakers working in the diaspora, Haile Gerima was born and raised in Gondor, Ethiopia. He came to the United States in 1967 and, during his education at UCLA, was exposed to the African and Latin American movies that awakened him to filmmaking. In the Akan language, "sankofa" means "return to the past in order to go forward." Gerima’s film evokes nineteenth-century slavery as a landscape in which to shape a story that deals with the contemporary experience of African slave descendants. Mona, an African-American model, travels to Ghana for a photo shoot at the Cape Coast Castle, a departure point for slaves in the Atlantic slave trade. She is confronted by a mysterious African divine drummer, Sankofa, who commands her to return to her source. Later, while visiting the chambers where Africans were imprisioned before conveyance to the slave ships, Mona is possessed by the lingering spirits of the slaves transported into the body of Shola, a house slave on the Lafayette plantation in the southern United States.
- Making Change
Colina Phillips, Canada 1994; 18 min., 16mm film
Colina Phillips’ success as one of Toronto’s top voices for hire began with singing songs her mother in her native Cape Breton. Making Changes is a striking black and white tribute to the director’s parents, a coal miner and his wife who lived in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, in the 1930s. Through music, dreamlike pacing and extraordinary landscapes, we observe as the father (Conrad Coates) returns from work in the coal mines to lovingly play his clarinet, daydream about being a musician and stay up long into the night to write his own music. His wife (Kayla Perrin) and daughter, meanwhile, attempt to alleviate his frustration with love and affection. Years pass. The man tries to balance his creative ambitions, family life and the grueling job necessary to sustain them. The man’s frustration erupts, and the threat to his sanity pushes him to the edge of making change.
- Rue Cases-Negres/Sugar Cane Alley
Euzhan Palcy, Martinique/France 1983; 103 min., 16mm film
Euzhan Palcy was born in Martinique in 1955. She began her career at FR3, the island’s French national radio and television station. She became the first black woman to direct a feature film in Hollywood with A Day White Season (1989). Adapted from the novel by Joseph Zobel, Sugar Cane Alley explores the political, racial and personal ramifications of life as a black labourer in 1930s Martinique. While the adults toil in the fields, the children romp in the "alley," a wooden-shack community isolated in the middle of a sugar plantation. However, for many of the youngsters, this will be their last summer on the plantation. The brightest among them will find better jobs or go on to high school, while the less fortunate will remain to assist their parents in the fields. Most prominently featured is José (Garry Cadenat), a frolicsome eleven-year-old who lives with his elderly grandmother, M’Man Tine (Darling Legitimus) and who ends up earning a prestigious scholarship to a school in Fort-de-France.
- Ye Wonz Maibel/Deluge
Salem Mekuria, Ethiopia/USA 1997; 65 min., 16mm film
Salem Mekuria is Assistant Professor of Art at Wellesley College in Massachusetts and an independent film producer, writer and director based in Boston. Born in Ethiopia and educated in the 1960s in film and video production at San Francisco State University, Mekuria has spent much of her career in documentary production. Ye Wonz Maibel/Deluge is a personal/historical visual essay. It tells the story of the Ethiopian students and their struggle to bring about a profound change in the Ethiopian political and social landscape during the 1970s. The calamitous fall of Emperor Haile Selassie I in 1974 led to a brutal military dictatorship which devastated the land and its people, significantly destabilizing the national identity. Ye Wonz... is a story of betrayal: brother against sister, friend against friend, idealism against power. It is also Mekuria’s memorial who disappeared in 1978 and to her best friend who was executed in 1979.
- The Last Angel of History
John Akomfrah, UK 1996; 45 min., video
John Akomfrah was a founding member of the London-based Black Audio Film Collective in 1983. Born in Ghana in 1957, he has lived most of his life in London. The Last Angel of History is an engaging and searing examination of hitherto unexplored connections between African diasporic culture, science fiction, intergalactic travel, and rapidly progressing computer technology. The film posits science fiction themes such as alien abduction, estrangement, and genetic engineering as metaphors for the African diasporic experience of forced displacement, cultural alienation, and otherness. Akomfrah’s analysis is rooted in an exploration of the cultural works of African diasporic artists, such as George Clinton and his Mothership Connection, Sun-Ra’s use of extraterrestrial iconography, and the black science fiction authors Samuel R. Delaney and Octavia Butler.
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