It is indeed a wonderful revelation in the history of world cinema that immensely talented women filmmakers of Africa and the African Diaspora are making it really big in innovative filmmaking. Not only are they challenging old cinematic prescriptions, they are also using their superior art of cinema to create and establish new visions of their people and the world. The journey of black women filmmakers began as early as 1922 when Tressie Saunders, a black woman director made the exemplary film ‘A Woman’s Error’. It was the first attempt of its kind in that era to decolonize the gaze and to ground the film in the black female subjectivity. However, today even after a long history of evocative work, black women directors have had a long, slow path to the director’s chair, where only a handful of black woman filmmakers have been able to break through the racial barriers in Hollywood.
But apart from Hollywood, many of the black women from Africa and in the United States have been able to stand out in respect of world cinema. In fact, filmmakers like Julie Dash (originally from New York City) has long ago won the Best Cinematography Award with her much acclaimed film “Daughters of the Dust” at the 1991 Sundance Film Festival. On the other hand, Cheryl Denye from Liberia has received worldwide fame and accolade with her film The ‘Watermelon Woman’ (1996), which happens to be the first African American lesbian feature film in the history of world cinema. Another woman filmmaker, Safi Faye from Senegal has to her credit several ethnographic films that brought her international acclaim and earned her several awards at the Berlin International Film Festivals in 1976 and 1979. Besides, there are independent black women filmmakers like Salem Mekuria from Ethiopia who produces documentary films focusing on her native Ethiopia and on African American women in general. In 1989, Euzhan Palcy became the first black woman to direct a mainstream Hollywood film, ‘A Dry White Season’. In spite of all this success, it is still true that the state of things isn’t all that rosy for African American women filmmakers. A documentary named “Sisters in Cinema’ by Yvonne Welbon has tried to explore why and how the history of black women behind the camera has been made strangely obscure in all of Hollywood.
“Sisters in Cinema’ happens to be the first and a one-of-its-kind documentary in the history of world cinema that attempts to explore the lives and films of inspirational black women filmmakers. To commemorate the success and the colossal achievement of black women filmmakers throughout the ages, a 62-min documentary by Yvonne Welbon named “Sisters in Cinema” came up in 2003. The film attempted to trace the careers of inspiring African American women filmmakers from the early part of the 20th century to today. As the first documentary of its kind, ‘Sisters in Cinema’ has been regarded by critics as a strong visual history of the contributions of African American women to the film industry. “Sisters in Cinema”, they say, has been a seminal work that pays homage to African American women who made history against all racial, social barriers and odds.
While being interviewed, the filmmaker Yvonne Welbon admitted that when she set out to make this documentary, she had barely knew there were any black women filmmakers apart from the African-American director Julie Dash. However, in pursuit of seeking those inspirational directors, she set out to explore the fringes of Hollywood where she discovered a phenomenal film directed by an African American woman Darnell Martin. Apart from that film ‘I Like It Like That’, she discovered only a handful of films being produced and distributed by African Americans. Thus saying, the monopoly of Hollywood by white filmmakers, producers and distributors inspired her in a way to travel the path of independent filmmaking. Surprisingly, here she uncovers a wide range of really remarkable films directed by an African American woman outside of the Hollywood studio system and thus she found out her sisters in cinema.
Within the 62-hour documentary, the careers, lives and films of inspirational women filmmakers, like Euzhan Palcy, Julie Dash, Darnell Martin, Dianne Houston, Neema Barnette, Cheryl Dunye, Kasi Lemmons and Maya Angelou are showcased, along with rare, in-depth interviews interwoven with film clips, rare archival footage and photographs and production video of the filmmakers at work. Together these images give voice to African American women directors and serve to illuminate a history of the phenomenal success of black women filmmakers in world cinema that has remained hidden for too long.
In recent times, there has been the Eighth Annual African American Women In Cinema Film Festival in New York City in October 2005. It was another remarkable event that showcased exceptional feature and documentary films as well as short films made by African American women filmmakers like Aurora Sarabia, a fourth generation Chicana (Mexican-American) from Stockton, CA, Vera J. Brooks, a Chicago-based producer, Teri Burnette, a socialistic filmmaker, Stephannia F. Cleaton, an award-winning New York City newspaper journalist and the business editor at the Staten Island Advance, Adetoro Makinde, a first generation Nigerian-American director, screenwriter, producer, actress, among others. And in more recent times, from February 5 to March 5, 2007, there has been the celebration of the Black History Month by the Film Society of Lincoln Center & Separate Cinema Archive, in which the center presented “Black Women Behind the Lens”.
A seething documentary, “Black Women Behind the Lens” celebrates the uncompromising cinematic labors of love created by a group of brave African-American women. Gifted with rare determination and undaunted spirits, these black women filmmakers were committed to speaking truth to power while offering alternatives to the stereotypical images of black women found in mainstream media. They resorted to Guerilla filmmaking, an artistic rebellion in the face of the long established network of Hollywood and have challenged old cinematic perceptions, using their art to erect new visions of their people, their heritage and their world. Noted theoreticians, sociologists, women writers, directors are saying that it is good to know that women filmmakers of Africa and the African Diaspora are challenging old cinematic prescriptions and creating their own visions in the cinema they love to make.
However, while a significant number of women in Africa and here in the United States have been able to carve out successful careers in filmmaking, the hurdles are particularly daunting. The problem, says Elizabeth Hadley, the chair of Women Studies at Hamilton College in Clinton, N.Y., is not particularly about black women making films, but the issues of marketing, distribution and funding. As a result, the majority of these women are finding money independently and working on shoestring budgets. However, all said and done, it is enough encouraging to know that at least some of these women are daring to decolonize the gaze of Hollywood and to ground their films in black female subjectivity. Any attention or recognition that comes when these women desire to communicate their ideas about black people’s history, heritage, with an emphasis on women’s experience, must be welcome!
Lopa Bhattacharya (Banerjee) is a content writer/developer, now based in Omaha, Nebraska, United States, working for various overseas corporate website projects, CD-Rom presentations, brochures, flyers and other communication materials. Has worked on numerous SEO copywriting projects on varied themes ranging from travel, hotel industry, photography, web design and software development to US-based clubs and network communities. Was previously an editorial associate for the news, culture and entertainment portal based on the life and times of Kolkata, India.
I sat down last year with Heidi Ewing and Rachel Grady, the directors of the shocking documentary about a pentecostal summer camp for children who spend their summers learning and practicing their “prophetic gifts” and being taught that they can “take back America for Christ.”
Video Rating: 4 / 5
Question by chocolate: Ever felt like this before?
Right now I feel like a total failure and loser in life. I mean, my GPA is not really that high and I know tha tI am getting nowhere with the BA degree that I am getting. I know that I will end up with a low paying job and that my situation is not going to be very good. I used to start off as a really bright and accomplished student back in highschool, but I don’t feel smart, nor good about myself these days. Furthermore, my boss is about to fire me which makes things worse.
Everyone around me is getting married, have a moderate income job, and I think that I am going to get a shitty boyfriend and live on minimum wage for the rest of my life. Some peoipel around me are engineers, lawyers, musicians, and filmmakers but I am not any of that crap. My dad wanted me to study so many things. He made me study piano, violin, french…at one point I was academically gifted in analyzing literature texts… then he wanted me to be an artist cuz I was good at art. After that he wanted me to be a doctor, and then a lawyer. Then he now wants me to learn japanese and russian. And, he wants me to open up a business and be its boss. I feel like a complete piece of shit because everyone else has direction in life and I don’t. I haven’t found anything that will do for a job that I enjoy, and it seems like studying life sciences, english and french hasn’t done shit for me. I mean, it’s back to square one with me being stuck at a minimum wage job.
How the fuck do I get out of this?
Answer by No Real Help
Gee, you think maybe you should start thinking for yourself and doing what YOU want to do, rather than what you think someone else wants you to to do might just change the way you approach school?
Add your own answer in the comments!
Our entry for the 2010 36 hour Christian filmmakers.org contest. For what it’s worth, the first half of the film is what’s left over of our original idea which involved time travel/paradox, etc. The rest of the film is the result of being mercilessly shut down by weather. Oh well.
Video Rating: 4 / 5
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