University of Rochester

EVENT: Winter, Spring Film Series Concentrates on the Best in Independent African-American Cinema

January 25, 2006

The Frederick Douglass Institute for African and African-American Studies at the University of Rochester, in conjunction with the Graduate Program in Visual and Cultural Studies, will offer four films this semester free of charge to both the University and Greater Rochester communities. The films, all highly regarded by film historians and critics but largely unknown to the general filmgoer, will focus on a wide spectrum of issues addressed by independent African-American cinema.

The series opens with Bill Gunn's underground art-house horror shocker Ganja & Hess (1973, color, 110 min.) at 7:15 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 26. Focusing on anthropologist Hess Green (Night of the Living Dead's Duane Jones), who becomes a vampire after an attack in the field by survivors of an ancient African civilization, the film metaphorically explores a number of themes, including addiction, non-traditional religious subjectivity, and the African Diaspora. Although it received a standing ovation at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival, Ganja & Hess has never been shown theatrically in the United States in the version intended by the director.

The copy being screened at the University of Rochester, however, represents Gunn's original and will be presented in Morey Hall. Each feature in the series will be screened at 7:15 p.m. in room 321 of Morey Hall on the University's River Campus, except Brother to Brother, which will be shown in Hoyt Auditorium.

Introducing Black History Month will be Charles Burnett's rarely screened 1977 feature Killer of Sheep (black and white, 83 min.) at 7:15 p.m. Thursday, Feb 2. Winner of the Critics' Prize at the Berlin International Film Festival, it is one of a small group of films selected by the Library of Congress for the U.S. National Film Registry, and one of the National Society of Film Critics' "100 Essential Films."

Killer of Sheep has achieved legendary status since its premiere. Focusing on a poor black family's everyday life in the Watts ghetto of Los Angeles, Killer of Sheep plays more like a documentary or a classic neo-realist film from Europe, rather than an American feature.

On Thursday, March 2, Eve's Bayou (1997, color, 109 min.), perhaps the most celebrated African-American film directed by a woman, will be presented. Starring Jurnee Smollett, Samuel L. Jackson, Diahann Caroll, and Vondie Curtis Hall, Eve's Bayou explores the lives of a Louisiana family through the eyes of a 10-year-old girl witnessing a series of harrowing events in her family member's lives.

Finally, on Thursday, April 6, the series will present Brother to Brother (2004, color and black-and-white, 94 min.) along with personal appearances by the film's award-winning director, Rodney Evans, and its acclaimed co-star, Duane Boutté.

Focusing on a young black and gay artist played by Anthony Mackie (8 Mile, Million Dollar Baby) who befriends legendary Harlem Renaissance poet Bruce Nugent (played in the present by Roger Robertson and in flashbacks to the 1930s by Duane Boutté), this film has won a shelf full of awards for its sophisticated and touching look at the lives of gay black men and their relationships with the larger black community.

It's also well-known for incorporating real-life African-American historical figures, including Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, and Wallace Thurman, into the film. Brother to Brother will be presented at 7:15 p.m. in Hoyt Auditorium on the University's River Campus.

Each screening will begin with a brief introduction by a University professor or graduate student, and will be followed by a discussion about issues raised by the film. Parking is free in the nearby Library Lot in the rear of Rush Rhees Library beginning at 7 p.m., and in most other campus lots.

For more information on the series or other programs of the Frederick Douglass Institute, contact Ghislaine Radegonde-Eison at or (585) 275-7235.

Note to editors: Several jpeg images from the films can be e-mailed to you. Please call (585) 275-4128 or send your request to Critics wishing to pre-screen films for review may contact Daniel Humphrey at