Filmmaker Haile Gerima has a long overdue moment and he’s a bit conflicted about it.
The 75-year-old director of “Bush Mama” and “Ashes and Embers” has proudly operated outside of mainstream Hollywood for nearly 50 years. Now retired and living in Washington DC, where he taught filmmaking at Howard University for decades, Gerima has found himself in the limelight he’s not used to with a 4K restoration of his epic ‘Sankofa’ from 1993, newly available on Netflix and a retrospective series on the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures starting October 2.
And neither could have happened without Ava DuVernay. Long a student and champion of Gerima’s revolutionary films, DuVernay spearheaded the restoration of “Sankofa” through his company ARRAY Releasing.
“Sir. Haile Gerima is the reason I was inspired to start my own movie distribution company and he is, quite simply, one of my heroes,” said DuVernay. “He disrupted the system well before anyone wants to notice it and continues to chart their own course.
Although Gerima has avoided Hollywood overtures over the years, he has found a soul mate in DuVernay who is devoted not only to his own career, but to amplifying black narratives through an independent cast.
“She thinks horizontally,” Gerima said in a recent interview. “She plans the future cinema of the African American world.”
Gerima told DuVernay that she could have any of her movies. She chose “Sankofa,” a meditation on the generational trauma of slavery that takes a modern model on a set in Ghana and transports it back in time to a plantation in America. Although the film was celebrated at international festivals at the time, it was not widely shown in the United States. But by then he was already used to self-distributing his films and those of his peers in universities and cultural centers.
Casting has been a passion for Ethiopia-born and raised Gerima since his time at the University of California Los Angeles in the late 1960s and early 1970s when it became very clear that s ‘he wanted to get his and his peers stories out to the world, he would have to do it himself.
It was there that he found like-minded peers who were interested in rebelling against the Eurocentric language of cinema and “reinforcing their own narrative accents.” Prominent filmmakers from the LA Rebellion community include Gerima, Charles Burnett, Larry Clark, and Julie Dash.
“We felt that the many mainstream distros, even the alternative distros, often couldn’t see what we see in our history,” Gerima said. “Traditional industry often operates from a very white supremacist paradigm.”
But the business itself was not viable.
“We didn’t have the cash flow power because we also made sure that 80% went to filmmakers against business logic because that was what we thought we deserved as filmmakers,” he said. he declares. “It was not a coherent affair, but it was by insubordination that it was done and it was very anarchic. We didn’t have the business sense to continue. So it is very important that Ava shows up and offers to take over the distribution.
Then came the occasion of the Academy Museum, which involved being awarded the inaugural Vantage Award and a series of retrospective screenings. DuVernay made the request and stopped him before he could even answer.
“She said, ‘I know you’re going to say no,’” he said, laughing.
DuVernay asked him to explain himself and think about it for a week.
Gerima finally agreed, but on her terms. The series “Imperfect Journey: Haile Gerima and his Comrades”, which begins October 2 and runs through November 14, will feature screenings of short and feature films by Gerima, such as her groundbreaking thesis film about a woman from Watts, “Bush Mama.” The program also includes screenings of “Ashes and Embers,” the world premiere of a new restoration of “Wilmington 10 – USA 10,000” and “Harvest: 3000 Years”. He will also highlight the work of his peers, mentees and students.
“I have never lost faith in people and human beings on a racial basis. But I know industry is industry and capitalism is capitalism. If the museum wants to recognize a stranger like me, it has to recognize the many corpses that never got to where I am. I’ll remind them. I’m going to say that recognizes me, thank you, but is it going to be sustainable? Will the well-meaning people who made this choice stay to reinforce it? I’m a little bit conflicted about this. And that’s my energy. I’m not convinced, I never wanted to.
“But if this at least helps the democratic preservation of the cinematographic contribution of all ethnicities, if this moment can remind us, I am for”, he continued. “So many works have perished because they weren’t considered stories… I am imperfect on an imperfect journey. I did it the best I could. But I want young people in the future who would come and give a chance to look at my work, which I tried to do, and then walk away from it. “
Follow AP screenwriter Lindsey Bahr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ldbahr