By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J.
The School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s Gene Siskel Film Center presents its 26th annual Black Harvest Film Festival (BHFF). Beginning Friday, November 6, BHFF will offer an engaging, fully online experience. Films will premiere via the website, siskelfilmcenter.org, at various dates throughout the month, and will remain available to stream for at least two weeks, with the festival ending with a Closing Night celebration on November 30.
Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot and First Lady Amy Eshleman serve as the honorary co-chairs, welcoming patrons in an Opening Night video. “If these past seven months have shown us anything, it’s that, during trying times, we can turn to the arts and storytelling to find meaning and understanding,” Lightfoot said in her statement.
The festival will premiere 10 feature films; over 30 short films; a program showcasing work from Chicago youth, as well as a workshop, three panel discussions, and will feature various “Screen to Screen” conversations with filmmakers and film talent.
On Opening Night, NBC/5’s LeeAnn Trotter will serve as MC, presiding over a virtual “parade of filmmakers” and the Chicago premiere of five short films.
On Closing Night, the BHFF Legacy Award will be presented to Black Cinema House director and host of TCM’s “Silent Sunday Nights,” native South Sider Jacqueline Stewart, who was recently named Chief Artistic and Programming Officer for The Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. A tribute to the late actor Chadwick Boseman and a screening of Mischa Webley’s film, “The Kill Hole,” starring Boseman will follow.
The Illinois Film Office is again a promotional partner of BHFF. “The Illinois Film Office is proud to once again support the Black Harvest Film Festival. Illinois remains committed to supporting opportunities and events like this one that shine a light on films and filmmakers portraying the diversity of all our Illinois communities,” said Peter Hawley, Director of the IFO.
Feature films include: “The Outside Story,” which I was able to screen before Crusader press time, stars Bryan Tyree Henry and will stream Saturday, November 7, at 3:00 p.m. After locking himself out of his apartment, Henry, as Charles, an introverted, heartbroken film editor, finds himself on an epic journey up, down and around his block with life-altering ramifications.
I love Henry. He played the compassionate confidant in “If Beale Street Could Talk.” In this film, he’s committed to his grind as an obit editor and neglects his girlfriend.
Being locked out turns into more of an adventure than an inconvenience.
He’s finally able to explore his neighborhood and make new meaningful relationships.
“Unapologetic” stars Ashley O’Shay and will stream Saturday, November 7, at 8:00 p.m. O’Shay is a former Film Center projectionist, and her film highlights the work of two young abolitionist organizers, as they work within the BLM movement to seek justice for Rekia Boyd and Laquan McDonald.
Closing Night film: “The Kill Hole” + the presentation to Stewart will stream on Monday, November 30, at 6:00 p.m. (one-time event).
“Kill Hole,” Boseman’s first starring feature film role, which screened at the 2012 BHFF, will follow the tribute.
This thriller takes on issues from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars as traumatized veteran Lt. Samuel Drake (Boseman) is haunted by one very dirty secret from his past. Living on the margins of Portland as a taxi driver, Drake soon comes to realize that he remains the pawn of the Army’s venal independent contractors.
Panels, workshops and virtual discussions are free, with the opportunity to donate. Tickets for feature films and shorts film programs will cost $10, with Film Center members paying only $5 per ticket.
BHFF passes cost $50, which will allow patrons to see any seven features or shorts presentations in the festival; or $100, which allows unlimited access to all festival programs.
Film Center members will pay only $30 for the seven-film BHFF pass.
New this year: BHFF merchandise is on sale, including masks, water bottles, hats and coffee mugs, designed by Black artist Rachel S. Gadson, with a percentage of the proceeds benefiting an organization advancing racial justice.
More complete information about all the films and updates about this year’s Black Harvest Film Festival can be found at https://www.siskelfilmcenter.org/bhff2020.