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Friday, December 3, 2021

Hailey Gerrima is having a Hollywood moment. It’s Left Him Conflicted.

Hale Gerima doesn’t hold back when she talks about Hollywood. The power games of filmmakers and distributors are “anti-cinema”, as they have recently put it. The three-act structure is similar to “fascism” – it “numbs, makes stories toothless.” And Hollywood cinema is like a “hydrogen bomb”.

For decades, Gerima, a 75-year-old Ethiopian filmmaker, has made a mark outside the Hollywood system, creating a legacy that dominates American and African independent cinema.

But as he recently spoke with me over a video call from his studio in Washington, D.C., Gerima found himself at an unexpected juncture: He was about to travel to Los Angeles, where he was to receive the inaugural Vantage Award at the opening ceremony. will receive. The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures, which is also holding a retrospective screening of his work this month. A new 4K restoration of his 1993 classic, “Sankofa,” debuted on Netflix last month.

After 50 years, Hollywood is finally calling. “I’m leaving with a lump in my throat,” Gerima said with her characteristic clarity. “It’s an industry I have no affiliation with, no trust in, no desire to be a part of.”

Gerima tends to speak directly and without euphemism, her words inspired by the force of her conviction. The filmmaker has been at loggerheads with the American film industry since the 1970s, when he was a student at the University of California, Los Angeles. There, he became known as the L.A. Rebellion – a loose collective of African and African American filmmakers including Charles Burnett (“Killer of Sheep”), Julie Dash (“Daughters of the Dust”), Larry. (“Tamu”) and others, who challenged the mainstream cinematic idiom.

Gerima’s first project in film school was a short commercial called “Death of Tarzan”. An exorcism of Hollywood’s colonial fantasies, it provoked a response from a classmate that Gerima still fondly remembers: “Thank you, Gerima, for killing that diaper-wearing imperialist!”

Since then he has guided Bristol with the same impulse for liberation, employing non-linear narratives and jagged audiovisual experiments to paint spirited portraits of Black and Pan-African resistance. In a phone interview, Burnett described Gerima’s work as running with emotion: “People have plots and things, but they have energy, real energy. That’s what characterizes his films.”

The stark, black-and-white “Bush Mama” (1975) depicts the radicalization of a woman in Los Angeles as she navigates the Kafkaesque bureaucracy of poverty and welfare. “Ashes and Embers” (1982) – which opens with the protagonist driving to Los Angeles with Hollywood dreams before being abruptly stopped by police – traces the gradual disillusionment of a black Vietnam War veteran. In “Sancofa”, one of Gerima’s most acclaimed films, an African American model is taken back in time to a plantation, where she becomes embroiled in a slave revolt. Other films, such as “Harvest: 3,000 Years” (1976) and “Teza” (2008), trace the political history of Gerima’s native Ethiopia.

For the filmmaker and his wife and producer partner, Shirikiana Aina, these visions of fierce black freedom are as important to life as art. Most of Gerima’s films are produced and distributed by the couple’s company, Maifeduh Films, whose name is derived from an ancient Ethiopian word meaning “keeper of the culture.” Maifeduh’s offices are located in Sankofa, a bookstore across the street from Howard University and the Pan-African cultural center where Gerima taught filmmaking for more than 40 years. This little pocket of Washington is Gerima’s kingdom—or his “free zone,” as he likes to call it.

“When I think of Hailey’s cinema, I think of maroon cinema,” said Abubakar Sanogo, a friend of Gerima’s and scholar of African cinema at Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada, in an interview with For Fugitive Slaves. Invoking a word who built their own independent settlements. “It’s a cinema of great freedom. Hollywood is the plantation it has fled.”

If Gerima is now ready to dance with the Academy (which, incidentally, no black filmmaker has ever received a Best Director Oscar), it’s because of the involvement of a kindred spirit: Ava DuVernay.

The “Selma” filmmaker, who co-chaired the Academy Museum’s opening ceremony, has been the driving force behind 2021’s Hell-Essence. Aire, DuVernay’s distribution and advocacy collective, led the restoration of “Sancofa”. The company re-released “Ashes and Embers” on Netflix in 2016, in addition to distributing Gerima’s son Meravi’s debut feature “Relic” last year.

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Speaking over the phone, DuVernay said that in collaboration with Gerima, she felt she had come full circle: Years ago, she modeled Array on the example set by Gerima and Aina’s on-the-ground delivery initiatives.

“I was deeply moved by the idea that your film is an extension of you, and doesn’t need to be given to someone else to share it with the world,” DuVernay said. “Self-determination of self-delivery, it was a revolutionary idea for me. I didn’t have to go to the studio begging – I could make my own film and interact freely with the audience.”

This was a strategy that Gerima and Aina devised during the initial release of “Sankofa”. The film gives galvanizing form to an idea that courses through all of Gerima’s work: Africans are not the victims of history, but rather its protagonists. “I always felt that slavery was not about cruel white people,” he said. “Slavery is about the refusal of black Africans to be enslaved. The consequences of that cannot be a major aspect of a movie; otherwise, you run into making Hollywood victims.”

But getting this film — born out of unprecedented co-productions with Ghana, Burkina Faso and other African countries — required the kind of fearless freedom seen by black audiences in America. When a well-received premiere at the 1993 Berlin International Film Festival didn’t lead to any US distribution deals, Gerima and Aina did what they knew best: they turned to their community.

He rented a local cinema in Washington, and organized screenings and meetings to promote the cause. The response was overwhelming: the theater was packed for 11 weeks, and soon they were raising money for a second print to show in Baltimore, where it ran for 21 weeks. As communities and cultural groups began arriving from Illinois, Kansas, Arkansas, California, and elsewhere, Gerima and Aina gradually established what they called the “Sankofa Family”.

“They were our airports in every state,” Gerima said. “Underclass Black people put this movie on the world map.”

Now, nearly 30 years later, a pristine restoration of “Sancofa” is streaming on Netflix in several countries. There is something poetic about the film introducing new audiences to Gerima’s legacy: its title derives from a Ghanaian word that translates to “reclaiming the past while looking to the future”.

This phrase was on my mind when I spoke with Gerima. He was in his editing “cave”, as he described it, and a photo of his father was on the computer screen behind him, the image zoomed into the man’s ear, as if he was listening. Author of political plays, Gerima’s father features prominently in “Black Lions, Roman Wolves,” a documentary about the Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1935 that the filmmaker is editing during the pandemic. Gerima said it stuck in postproduction because of “surrealist” talks with Italy’s state-owned film company Istituto Luce Cinecita over newsreel footage from the war.

He recalled that when he premiered his documentary “Adva”, about the Ethiopian army’s 1896 victory against the Italian invaders, at the Venice Film Festival in 1999, the press criticized Istituto Luce for not participating in the production Was. “So he wrote me a letter saying, ‘In your next film, we will participate.’ But every time a bureaucrat changes, the policy changes. And I have to redo the ABCD of everything.”

Such experiences make them wary of institutional support. “I don’t trust explosive social discourse,” he said. “The good guys at the Academy Museum – what happens when they’re not there? Who comes in? And then what happens to the inclusive idea? That’s what worries me.”

Aina, who joined us for the final touches of our interview, seemed more cautiously optimistic as she spoke about the museum’s Vantage prize. “I hope this means our job can be a little easier,” she said simply. “We just want to be able to have the ability to make our own movies, and leave something that future filmmakers can incorporate into their new perspective.”

World Nation News Deskhttps://www.worldnationnews.com
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