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Bringing black cinema to the fore

Published on August 31, 2019

Retrospectives are always one of the highlights of Locarno Film Festival, and this year it rendered homage to black cinema, with works ranging from Africa to Afro-American, -Brazilian, -British and -French works. 

“Black Light” is part of a larger and longer project led by Independent curator and writer Greg de Cuir Jr.  He organises the screening series Avant-Noir, which presents contemporary film and video work by artists concerned with visual representations of black culture in its various complex forms, and first shown in three successive volumes at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London. 

Wilfred Okiche (Nigeria), from Locarno Festival’s Critics Academy, discussed the methods and criteria of selection Greg de Cuir Jr. makes.

After Locarno, the retrospective will travel to the Filmpodium Zürich, Cinema Rex (Bern), Eye Filmmuseum (Amsterdam), Arsenal – Institut für Film und Videokunst e.V. (Berlin) and the Cineteca Madrid.

Black Light’s must-see films

1. Amor Maldito 

Adélia Sampaio, Brazil 1984

The first film ever directed by an African-Brazilian woman, AmorMaldito is a sweeping tale of doomed love told with plenty of style. Two young women, both from different social backgrounds develop a close, illicit relationship. Naturally, the real problems begin when one of them also gets involved with a man.

2. Babylon 

Franco Rosso, UK/Italy 1980

This 1980 cult classic is considered by many to be the great British reggae film. Directed by Franco Rosso, Babylon is not just a brilliant portrait of an underground musical scene, it is also a snapshot of a subculture. It is still a relevant slice of social realism that depicts all the ways that the system is out to frustrate minority populations.

3. Handsworth Songs

John Akomfrah, UK 1986

Filmed during the 1985 riots in Handsworth and London, John Akomfrah’s richly-layered documentary represents the hopes and dreams of post-war black British people in the light of the civil disturbances of the time. Handswoth Songs engages with Britain’s colonial past, public and private memories, and the struggles of race and class.

4. La Noire de (Black Girl) 

Ousmane Sembène, Senegal/France/Algeria 1966

What would cinema be without Ousmane Sembene’s La Noire de? It is hard to tell. Full of depth but told in a simplistic manner, Sembene’s tragic and deeply resonant film considers the colonial history of two countries via the labor relations between a vibrant young Senegalese woman who moves to Europe to work for a French family.

5. still/here

Christopher Harris, USA 2000

A film essay shot in black and white on 16mm by the artist Christopher Harris, still/here patiently studies displacement and disorganisation in America’s North St. Louis working class neighbourhood. still/here paints a damning portrait of apathy and civic neglect.

6. West Indies

Med Hondo, France/Algeria/Mauritania 

The 1979 classic, WestIndies directed by the late Med Hondo brims with righteous anger and dazzling energy, Hondo’s epic is a sprawling, theatrical yet cinematic depiction of black life in the past, present and even future. Using a small island nation as jumping ship, WestIndies delivers a thorough lecture on African history, slavery, racism and colonialism.