The Chicago Journal

Celebrating Black Artistry and Emerging Filmmakers at the Black Harvest Film Festival

Black Harvest
Image commercially licensed from: DepositPhotos

An Embrace of Black Joy and New Voices

In a departure from previous editions, the Black Harvest Film Festival in its current iteration has chosen to shine a spotlight on narratives of Black joy and lend a receptive ear to the voices of emerging talents in the world of cinema. This year’s festival is also marked by a heartfelt tribute to the iconic Tyler Perry, underlining its dedication to celebrating and nurturing the artistic achievements of the Black community.

The Return of Chicago’s South Shore Drill Team

One unforgettable moment during the 2021 Bud Billiken Parade saw the young members of Chicago’s South Shore Drill Team glimmering down King Drive in silver and black sequined jackets, their exuberance undiminished by the August heat. For the South Shore Drill Team and other groups that rely on in-person practices, the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic marked an abrupt halt to their routines. This year, a compelling 5-minute short film named “For The Crib” chronicles their triumphant return post-lockdown, capturing the essence of their decades-long journey.

Lawrence Agyei, the talented filmmaker behind this short film, was profoundly moved by the team’s resilience and stories. Agyei, originally from Italy but now calling Chicago home, found himself spending nearly every day with the young drill team members, crafting a heartwarming narrative that exemplifies the spirit of their return.

Black Harvest Film Festival: A Showcase of Black Love in Short Films

Agyei’s “For The Crib” is just one of the cinematic gems featured in this year’s Black Harvest Film Festival. The festival offers a diverse selection of short films, collectively exploring the multifaceted tapestry of Black love. These cinematic creations are thoughtfully bundled into a program called “From the Block — For Real,” scheduled to run on November 11 and 13.

Empowering New Filmmakers

The Black Harvest Film Festival’s enduring legacy extends to empowering new voices in the world of cinema. It’s not just about showcasing talent; it’s also about providing a platform for emerging filmmakers. This year, the festival introduces the Sergio Mims Fund for Black Excellence in Filmmaking, named in honor of the festival’s late co-founder, who passed away last fall. This fund isn’t just about exposure; it’s about raising essential resources to support the next generation of Black filmmakers, ensuring their voices continue to be heard.

A Photographer’s Transition to Filmmaking

While Lawrence Agyei is primarily recognized as a photographer, his debut film, “For The Crib,” is an illustration of his artistic evolution. His transition from capturing moments in still frames to weaving captivating narratives on the silver screen showcases the boundless creativity that often transcends art forms.

Championing Black Stories and History

Lead curator Jada-Amina recognizes the power of storytelling and art in the Black community. She sees in Agyei a similar gift for narrative as in revered Black artists like Gordon Parks, the famed photographer who had a unique talent for allowing individuals to speak their truth through his images. Jada-Amina’s mission is to honor this artistry and champion Black stories and history.

Connecting Personal Experiences to the Black Experience

Jada-Amina’s curatorial choices are deeply rooted in her personal experiences as a Black child. She emphasizes the significance of everyday places as “cultural institutions,” where the tapestry of Black culture is woven through history, stories, colors, and even smells. She fondly recalls the smell of pork, despite not being a part of her own household with a Muslim father, as a testament to the vivid memories that still resonate within her.

Reimagining Cultural Stewardship

Jada-Amina’s vision extends beyond mere curation; she seeks to reimagine cultural stewardship. She believes in presenting Black communities as cultural stewards, challenging mainstream perceptions and paving the way for a more comprehensive acknowledgment of their invaluable contributions.

Art as a Transformative Force

Rachel Gadson, another emerging filmmaker, explores the transformative power of art in her short film, “Dear Black Artist.” By interviewing 77 Black creatives, including Jada-Amina, Gadson reveals the common thread that runs through many Black artists’ journeys. Their introduction to art often traces back to adolescence, whether through inspiring art teachers at Chicago Public Schools or the vibrant culture of Black churches on the South Side of Chicago. These experiences serve as intellectual foundations for countless Black artists.

An Opportunity for Emerging Filmmakers

The Black Harvest Film Festival provides opportunities that are truly transformational for budding artists like Rachel Gadson, who is making her debut on a significant stage with her short film. It’s an exciting opportunity to not only showcase their work but also receive valuable feedback and connect with a broader audience, cementing their role as the vanguards of a new era in Black cinema.