[This text was originally published in AREA Chicago #13 in April 2013]
The Black Cinema House (BCH) inhabits a formerly abandoned two-flat in Chicago’s Grand Crossing neighborhood. In 2012, artist Theaster Gates restored the house, installing a state-of-the-art screening room. The space is programmed by Gates’s Rebuild Foundation and is partially funded by a National Endowment for the Arts Creative Placemaking grant. The BCH has a two-part mission: to show underseen works by film and video makers of the African and other diasporas, and to provide area youth with the skills to make their own films and tell their own stories.
Film screenings thus far have been mostly historical in nature. For the series, “The Black Cinema Is…,” invited speakers introduce and then lead a discussion on a film that they feel is important to an understanding of black cinema, however they choose to define it. In December, Northwestern professor Jacqueline Stewart presented the rare Hyde Park—shot 1959 docudrama The Cry of Jazz, which interspersed polemics about jazz and race with performance footage of Sun Ra and his Arkestra. And in November, pioneering black filmmaker Ronn Pitts presented the 1969 documentary American Revolution 2—some of which he shot—and then talked about his 40-year career in the film industry.
In 2013, the BCH will continue to provide screenings of historically important works, while expanding its programming to include new works by filmmakers such as the School of the Art Institute’s Buki Bodunrin and the New York–based collective Cinema Stereo. Partnerships with local and national black film organizations will result in more contemporary film screenings, many accompanied by discussions or other events.
The BCH also emphasizes programs for children. Its very first event was a screening of classic Halloween cartoons curated by the Chicago Film Archives, followed by a Halloween music dance party hosted by cable- access children’s show Chic-a-Go-Go. In 2013, the BCH and the nonprofit Community TV Network will present a filmmaking class to fifth-graders at the South Shore Fine Arts Academy. Future screenings will feature the work of students enrolled in afterschool filmmaking programs around the city. ◊
For more information about future screenings and
events, please visit our website: blackcinemahouse.org.