James Baldwin spent his lifetime “telling it like it is” in prose and poems, lectures and plays, demonstrations and debates, delivering a lucid analysis of the historical, political, and psychological underpinnings of racism and the structural inequality of the United States and other Western nations. Inspired by Baldwin’s dazzling work of film criticism, The Devil Finds Work, this series explores Baldwin’s encounter with cinema and his contributions to American intellectual life, alongside works by black film- makers that also critically reflect on the history of race relations in the US and the UK. The series begins with I Am Not Your Negro, based on Baldwin’s unfinished memoir, Remember This House. It continues with two of the films at the center of Baldwin’s critical account of race and Hollywood cinema, The Defiant Ones and In This Our Life. The program also includes documentaries about Baldwin, along with essay films that explore questions of race, immigration, and sexuality—films that, in their formal experimentations, demonstrate the cinema’s enduring power as a tool of critical reflection and resistance.
Thursday / 9.14.17 / 7:00
Sunday / 9.17.17 / 1:30
I Am Not Your Negro
Raoul Peck (US, 2016)
Race, power, and film collide in Raoul Peck’s invigorating look at James Baldwin, whose potent investigations on American culture and racism were written decades ago, but whose “words matter now more than ever” (Manuel Betancourt, Esquire). Based on Baldwin’s unfinished manuscript Remember This House, which eulogized Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and Medgar Evers, and his essays on Hollywood and race, I Am Not Your Negro may technically be telling the story of civil rights in 1960s America, but—through clips from Ferguson, Black Lives Matter, and more—it seems sorrowfully urgent and utterly necessary today.
Written by Peck, based on the writings of James Baldwin. Photographed by Henry Adebonojo, Bill Ross, Turner Ross. Narrated by Samuel L. Jackson. (93 mins, Color/B&W, DCP, From Magnolia Pictures)
Thursday / 9.21.17 / 7:00
The Defiant Ones
Stanley Kramer (US, 1958)
Introduced by Stephen Best, associate professor of English at UC Berkeley
Nominated for eight Academy Awards and winner of two, Stanley Kramer’s anti-racist “message” film stars Tony Curtis and Sidney Poitier as convicts who escape, shackled together, from an overturned prison van in the deep South. The two must overcome their mutual suspicion as they are tracked by a bloodthirsty mob barely controlled by the local sheriff. In The Devil Finds Work James Baldwin praises Poitier’s “shattering” performance but demonstrates the difficulty of sending such a message to a divided nation, observing that a Harlem audience’s reaction to the climactic moment was entirely opposite to that of audiences downtown.
Written by Nathan E. Douglas (Nedrick Young), Harold Jacob Smith. Photographed by Sam Leavitt. With Tony Curtis, Sidney Poitier, Theodore Bikel, Lon Chaney, Jr. (97 mins, B&W, 35mm, From Park Circus)
Thursday / 9.28.17 / 7:00
In This Our Life
John Huston (US, 1942)
Introduced by Damon Young, assistant professor of French and film & media at UC Berkeley
In In This Our Life, Bette Davis delivers what James Baldwin refers to as a “ruthlessly accurate” portrayal of a spoiled, amoral Southern girl. Thoroughly convinced of the protection that her wealth, color, and sex afford her, she callously blames her black chauffeur for a fatal hit-and-run accident for which she herself was responsible, going so far as to try to solicit the young man to plead guilty. Baldwin regards the scene as an example of “the white descent from dignity” with which blacks in the US are often confronted: it “would seem to indicate that white people have no principles whatever.”
Written by Howard Koch, based on the novel by Ellen Glasgow. Photographed by Ernest Haller. With Bette Davis, Olivia de Havilland, Ernest Anderson, Charles Coburn. (97 mins, B&W, 35mm, From Warner Bros.)
Thursday / 10.5.17 / 7:00
James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket
Karen Thorsen (US, 1989), Digital Restoration
In Person: Karen Thorsen
James Baldwin: The Price of the Ticket traces Baldwin’s trajectory from his childhood in 1930s Harlem through his work and travels in Europe and the US. Eschewing narration, the film combines archival materials from numerous sources, excerpts from Baldwin’s writing, and interviews with friends and colleagues to create a striking portrait of the author, activist, and cultural critic. Maya Angelou, Amiri Baraka, Ishmael Reed, and others speak to Baldwin’s legacy and his unique and compelling contribution to twentieth-century thought. “A haunting, beautifully made biography” (Los Angeles Times).
Written by Thorsen, Douglas K. Dempsy. Photographed by Don Lenzer. With Maya Angelou, David Leeming, Ishmael Reed, William Styron. (86 mins, Color, Digital, From The James Baldwin Project funded by the Ford Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and Stan & Joanne Marder)
Thursday / 11.9.17 / 7:00
John Akomfrah (United Kingdom, 2011)
John Akomfrah uses Homer’s Odyssey as a point of departure for The Nine Muses, a cinematic exploration of migration, exile, alienation, and the definition of home. Akomfrah’s look at the experiences of those referred to as the “Windrush Generation” replaces the conventional formal structures of documentary filmmaking with a poetic study of archival materials. Combining footage of Caribbean and African migrants in the 1950s and ’60s, static shots of lone figures in empty frozen landscapes, and a layered sound collage of readings and music, Akomfrah’s elegy of immigration is as much a journey in itself as it is a document of journeys.
Written by Akomfrah. Photographed by Dewald Aukema. (94 mins, Color, DCP, From Icarus Films)
Thursday / 11.16.17 / 7:00
Marlon Riggs (United States, 1989)
This exhilarating work breaks free of the homophobia and racism that mute the possibilities for human fulfillment. Marlon Riggs creates a poetic pastiche that has the emotional uplift of gospel music and the sobering impact of reportage. The words of gay poets, personal testimony, rap tableaux, dramatic sequences, and archival footage are woven together with a seductive palette of video effects. Riggs dared to speak the words that would conjure a life into being: “Black men loving black men is the revolutionary act.”
Written by Riggs, et al. Photographed by Riggs. With Essex Hemphill, Blackberri, Brian Freeman, Alan Miller. (55 mins, Color, DCP, From Frameline)
For more information: bampfa.org