The Black Harvest film festival returns, without its co-founder
The 28th Black Harvest Film Festival, November 4-20 in person at the Gene Siskel Film Center, won’t be like the previous 27.
Co-founder and chief programmer Sergio Mims died in October, a significant loss for the Chicago film. On opening night and throughout this year’s festival, tributes to the Mims should serve to remind audiences of the unique combination of curator, critic, educator and cinephile.
Mims worked extensively on programming in the last months of his life. Film Center Director of Programming Rebecca Fons and Programming Intern Nick Leffel looked at this year’s submission pool and finalized the schedule. But the results, range and spirit are pure Sergio.
“His influence and curation runs through Black Harvest,” Fons told me Thursday. From the start, she said, a 30th anniversary screening of the Reginald Hudlin/Eddie Murphy comedy “Boomerang” (7 p.m., Nov. 20) topped the last of Mims’ stimulus priorities.
“It was always her choice for closing night,” Fons noted, and it will be an opportunity for audiences to “come dressed in your best ’90s style,” as the Film Center’s website puts it, for a post-screening reception.
Two other key titles from the last 50 years of mainstream black cinema — that of director Sidney Poitier “Buck and the Preacher” (6 p.m. Nov. 9) and director Spike Lee’s “Malcolm X” (7:15 p.m., Nov. 19) — expanding the titles of this year’s repertoire. There’s also a rarity once considered lost: the restored 1973 Oakland crime drama “King of Solomon”, screening at 9 p.m. on November 11. Chicago’s seminal title “Cooley High” (8:00 p.m. Nov. 16) brings it home, though it’s not the only Chicago film included in this year’s lineup of new and old features, shorts programs, events and receptions .
Example: If you missed the PBS premiere of “American Masters” earlier this year from “Marian Anderson: The whole world in her hands” an exceptionally well-directed documentary by Illinois native Rita Coburn Whack, Black Harvest gives her a well-deserved showcase (6:15 p.m., November 6).
Mims has always had his eye on local talent. He also knew a lot about classical and operatic music. For many reasons, Fons said, Marian Anderson’s documentary, an artfully polished portrayal of the great contralto, was “the very first film that Sergio said he wanted to include this year.”
Mims and Fons spent April to June this year looking at submissions for the 2022 festival, Fons said, “getting together regularly to talk about what we liked and what we thought was a good fit. Our conversations were varied and usually included industry conversations and thoughts on new movies in theaters that we were both planning to see We inevitably ended up talking politics and shaking our heads, but the conversation always started and ended by a movie.
Friday’s opening night program, hosted by NBC-5’s LeeAnn Trotter, includes a program of shorts; the presentation of the Black Harvest Legacy Award, presented this year to Sharon King, producer, casting director, author and graduate of Columbia College and Harpo Productions; and the first of the festival’s tributes to the Mims.
The taste, of course, is bittersweet. But this year’s festival also reminds us of what one man has accomplished in an all-too-short life devoted to cinema in every possible context.
I would have liked to know him longer and better. He was a lot of fun, a great sparring partner on camera; we found ourselves together several times on WTTW’s “Chicago Tonight” and his tastes were incredibly broad and informed. The last time I saw him, just weeks before his death, he shared photos of himself on stage at the TCM Classic Film Festival with Jacqueline Stewart, co-host of the TCM and president of the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures . It was, he says, the greatest moment of his career.
What I remember most is the time we shared in the screening rooms. Once we were talking about the Stanley Donen MGM musical “It’s Always Fair Weather” – I believe it was a non-academic discussion of Cyd Charisse’s dance number, “Baby, You Knock Me Out” – and Mims said mentioned Michael Kidd’s solo number that was cut. I hadn’t heard of that. It floats on YouTube, he said. “It’s incredible.” And it was.
I have no idea what movie we saw that day. Statistically it wasn’t likely to be memorable, but I remember speaking with Sergio. May he rest well, and may his spirit soar long in the vicinity of State Street and the Film Center.
Black Harvest Film Festival, Nov. 4-27, Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St.; full schedule at siskelfilmcenter.org/blackharvest.
Michael Phillips is a reviewer for the Tribune.
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