Since the late 1960s, a broad community of filmmakers from UCLA has emerged to energize and renew not just Black cinema but American cinema as a whole. What these filmmakers share is an institutional context rather than a consistent aesthetic or political approach. This “movement” is known by several names, the most prominent being “L.A. Rebellion.”
By the late 1960s, faculty and student activists were putting pressure on the handful of prominent film schools in the country to address the relative lack of diversity in American moviemaking by admitting more students of color. This question was a particularly sensitive one at UCLA, the public university just across town from both Hollywood and the site of the 1965 Watts Rebellion. In 1968, the university introduced the short-lived Ethno-Communications Program, an experimental affirmative action initiative that promoted the admission of not just Black but also Latino, Native American and Asian film students.
By the time it ended in 1973, the program had admitted a critical mass of students of color who continued to draw colleagues to UCLA for years to come. Especially remarkable is the number of Black filmmakers to emerge from this initiative: Charles Burnett, Julie Dash, Billy Woodberry, Haile Gerima, Jamaa Fanaka, Barbara McCullough, Larry Clark, Alile Sharon Larkin, Ben Caldwell and Zeinabu irene Davis, to name only the best-known.
This program, organized by scholars at UCLA and the programmers and curators of the UCLA Film & Television Archive, provides an extensive introduction to the work of these filmmakers. The program covers more than thirty years, with a special focus on the 1970s and ‘80s, and includes work by nearly two dozen directors, thus affording a panoramic look at the diversity of artists within the “L.A. Rebellion” rubric.
The films themselves embody a variety of styles, from classical narrative storytelling to neorealism and beyond. Many of the filmmakers are engaged in a stylistic research that draws on the modernist self-reflexivity of much of the experimental filmmaking of the period, African and African American musical and narrative traditions, montage and various strains of expressionist and surrealist avant-garde cinema.
In the process, the films speak powerfully against racial and class oppression and espouse a variety of political positions, including Black Power, Afrocentrism, second-wave feminism and anti-colonialism. Above all, they affirm the ability of the African American experience to generate powerful and moving cinematic images. — David Pendleton
Presented in association with UCLA Film & Television Archive and supported in part by grants from the Getty Foundation and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts. The series is curated by Allyson Nadia Field, Jan-Christopher Horak, Shannon Kelley, and Jacqueline Stewart
$12 Special Event Tickets - Billy Woodberry in Person
Friday April 19 at 7pm
UPDATE: Due to events currently unfolding in the area related to Monday's bombings at the Boston Marathon, tonight's screenings have been cancelled. Authorities urge everyone to remain home and indoors while their investigation continues.
Directed by Billy Woodberry. With Nate Hardman, Kaycee Moore, Angela Burnett
US 1984, 35mm, b/w, 84 min
The neo-realist strain of L.A. Rebellion filmmaking began with Charles Burnett’s first films in the late 1960s and reached its culmination with Bless Their Little Hearts fifteen years later. Working from a screenplay by Burnett, Billy Woodberry brings to anguished life this portrait of a married couple striving to make ends meet and still have the time and energy to maintain their relationship to each other and to their three young children. The result is an emotional and strikingly realistic look at the daily grind of working poverty, full of humor and devoid of the least pity for its characters – or of a simple solution to their difficulties.
Preservation funded by the National Film Preservation Foundation and the Packard Humanities Institute
Directed by Billy Woodberry. With Ella “Simi” Nelson, Ray Cherry, David Jenkins
US 1980, 35mm, b/w, 13 min
In the course of a botched purse snatching, a boy questions the course of his life in this adaptation of Langston Hughes’ short story, "Thank You, Ma'am."
Preservation funded in part by a grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts
Directed by Haile Gerima. With Barbara-O, Johnnie Weathers,
US 1975, 16mm, b/w, 97 min
Bush Mama is the first feature film by Haile Gerima, the Ethiopian-born director who has gone on to international acclaim with a series of films shot both in the US and in Africa. The film follows the furious efforts of a young woman to keep her family together while her partner is in jail, in the face of alternately indifferent and hostile systems of discipline and control. Gerima evinces his commitment to a radicalism of both content – as his protagonist acquires a political understanding of her situation – and of form, blending documentary episodes and moments of self-reflexive filmmaking into the narrative.
Directed by Bernard Nicolas. With Marva Anderson, Keith Taylor
US 1980, digital video, b/w & color, 13 min
This award-winning student film uses Nina Simone’s version of “Pirate Jenny” as the soundtrack for a woman’s fantasies of revolt in the face of workplace indignities.
Directed by Larry Clark. With Nathaniel Taylor, Clarence Muse,
US 1977, 16mm, color, 111 min
Upon being released from prison after murdering a music-industry mobster, a jazz saxophonist searches for his mentor while trying to reunite his band. The allegorical narrative works to define jazz as the musical expression of the Black experience, with its African roots and its American battles with appropriation and exploitation. The film also leaves plenty of time for the music itself, from the onscreen appearances by Horace Tapscott and the Pan Afrikan Peoples Arkestra to the performances by Charlie Parker, John Coltrane and Sun Ra on the soundtrack. By combining music, allegory and analysis, Passing Through has achieved canonical status as one of the few great jazz films.
Preservation funded in part by a grant from the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts and the Packard Humanities Institute
Directed by Charles Burnett. With Ayuko Babu, Florence Bracy
US 1995, 16mm, color, 13 min
In the hands of Charles Burnett, the simple story of a woman turning to her neighbors in order to pay the rent becomes a captivating yet gently humorous slice of life illustrating the profound importance of community.
Directed by Alile Sharon Larkin. With Margot Saxton-Federella,
US 1982, 16mm, color, 51 min
A touching look at young people settling into adulthood in a world crisscrossed by sexual, generational and racial divides, A Different Image has come to be recognized as a landmark of Black feminist filmmaking in the thirty years since its release. A young professional woman in Los Angeles struggles to be seen as more than a sexual object, while her flirtatious co-worker eventually comes to realize that he must reconcile his expectations and experiences with hers. The film makes its point as much through its use of montage, juxtaposing various kinds of photographs of a wide range of women, as through its narrative sequences.
Directed by Zeinabu irene Davis. With Stephanie Ingram
US 1989, 16mm, b/w, 17 min
As a woman anxiously awaits her overdue period, she performs African-based rituals of purification. This intimate short film incorporates still images and stop-motion animation into a portrait of a woman and her home.
Directed by Barbara McCullough. With Yolanda Vidato
US 1979, 35mm, b/w, 6 min
Barbara McCullough’s strikingly beautiful experimental film, inspired by a friend’s nervous breakdown, presents an abandoned area of Watts as emblematic of Black desolation while also suggesting that it can be reclaimed as sacred ground.
Preservation funded with a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation's Avant-Garde Masters Grant Program funded by The Film Foundation
Directed by Monona Wali. With Eve Holloway, Haskell V. Anderson
US 1981, 16mm, b/w, 38 min
The confrontation between a Black Panther just out of prison after ten years and an ambitious television producer exposes the rifts between radicalism and assimilation in the early 1980s. The film expresses this tension by shifting among realism, reportage and a theatrical expressionism.
Directed by Charles Burnett. With Everette Silas, Jessie Holmes, Gaye Shannon Burnett
US 1983, digital video, color, 82 min
While Charles Burnett’s Killer of Sheep has gradually received the attention it deserves as a landmark of American independent filmmaking, its follow-up has long been ignored, due in large part to its status as a not-quite-finished film. It turns on the dilemmas faced by a young man torn between an alienating social advancement and a limiting past of petty crime. Working at his parents’ dry-cleaning establishment in the days before his brother’s marriage, Burnett’s protagonist is suddenly confronted by the return from prison of a friend from his youth. The director has called My Brother’s Wedding a “tragicomedy,” and he embellishes the plot with episodes of gentle humor. The film’s producers rushed the film onto the festival circuit in a rough cut; Burnett was only able to finish editing his own version a few years ago.
Directed by Robert Wheaton. With Peter Parros
US 1986, digital video, b/w, 9 min
This charming bit of romantic comedy features the usual “boy meets girl” tribulations from the point of view of a handsome but hapless would-be Romeo.
Directed by Zeinabu irene Davis. With John Earl Jelks, Michelle A. Banks, Nirvana Cobb
US 1999, 16mm, b/w and color, 90 min
Zeinabu irene Davis’ ambitious feature debut links the African American present of the 1980s to the Black modernism of the early 20th century by juxtaposing two love stories, one from each era and starring the same actors. In each case, the lovers must negotiate not only racism but also illness and differences in class and educational background. Upon casting deaf actress Michelle A. Banks as the female lead, Davis and screenwriter Mark Arthur Chéry modified the film to incorporate signing and intertitles to make it accessible to both deaf and hearing audiences. At the same time, these touches act as an homage to early Black cinema.
Directed by Iverson White. With John Jelks, Harold House, Jeffrey Dixon
US 1985, 16mm, b/w and color, 28 min
Director Iverson White’s skillful recreation of classical Hollywood filmmaking at its most poetic proves a surprisingly moving and powerfully political stylistic choice for this tale of three brothers in the Jim Crow South who face harrowing life-and-death choices after the lynching of their father.
Directed by Julie Dash. With Cora Lee Day, Alva Rogers, Barbara-O, Adisa Anderson
US 1991, 35mm, color, 112 min
At the dawn of the 20th century, a Gullah Geechee family, descendants of escaped slaves living on an island off the coast of the southern U.S., prepares to move to the mainland and emigrate north. This decision is the occasion for a gathering to mark the end of one era and the beginning of another, with rites meant to bridge the traditions of the past and the coming of the new, as three generations of the family’s women confront the strictures placed upon them. Daughters of the Dust earned a place in cinema history as the first feature film by an African American woman, but it is the film’s beauty and ambition that are the hallmarks of director Julie Dash’s achievement.
Directed by Julie Dash. With Barbara O. Jones
US 1977, digital video, b/w, 15 min
Julie Dash’s first narrative film adapts an Alice Walker short story about a nun in Uganda contemplating the emptiness she finds in her supposed union with Christ.
Preservation funded in part with a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation
Directed by Haile Gerima. With Barbara O. Jones, James Dougall
US 1972, 16mm, b/w and color, 36 min
Inspired by the trial of Angela Davis, Child of Resistance juxtaposes black-and-white footage of a Black female prisoner and her stream-of-consciousness voiceover with Felliniesque color imagery of this woman wandering through a dreamscape of sex- and drug-fueled debauchery and racial degradation.
Directed by Shirikiana Aina
US 1982, 16mm, color, 33 min
Brick by Brick is a film essay about the displacement of Black families in a rapidly gentrifying Washington, D.C. at the turn of the 1980s. Although the documentary focuses on residents speaking for themselves, equally eloquent is the juxtaposition of the dispassionate excuses of bureaucrats with deserted apartment interiors.
Directed by O.Funmilayo Makarah
US 2006, digital video, color, 4 min
This “computer film” updates the city symphony by electronically layering a list of Los Angeles places and names on top of the urban landscape as seen from a moving car.
Directed by Carroll Parrott Blue, Kristy H. A. Kang, The Labyrinth Project
US 2003, digital video, color, 10 min
This evocative excerpt from the Labyrinth Project’s DVD-ROM, based on a memoir by Carroll Parrot Blue, leads viewers on a rich visual and textual exploration of Blue’s family history and of the history of Houston’s Black community. Using her great-grandmother’s quilt as an interface, Blue and co-director Kristy H. A. Kang create plateaus of historical and narrative interest in a series of visual “panscapes,” constructed from original photographs, interviews, archival footage and the spoken word.
Directed by Melvonna Ballenger. With Evlynne Braithwaite,
US 1978, digital video, b/w, 16 min
The political awakening of a young female typist is vividly portrayed through Melvonna Ballenger’s use of John Coltrane’s song, “After the Rain.”
Directed by S. Torriano Berry. With Steve T. Berry, Susann Akers
US 1982, 16mm, b/w, 22 min
A poignant character study, Rich finds the title character forced to confront the obstacles that face him, beginning with his own family, on the day of his graduation from high school. The evocative cinematography is by Dark Exodus’ Iverson White.
Directed by Jacqueline Frazier. With Leslie Smith, Don Maharry
US 1983, digital video, color, 25 min
Shipley Street is a coming-of-age story about a young girl whose working-class parents, hoping to better her future, send her to a strict, predominantly white parochial school where she comes face to face with unthinking racism.
Directed by Gay Abel-Bey. With Tony Ginn, Fumilayo, Roy Fegan
US 1991, digital video, b/w, 38 min
Conflicted by duty and fear, George heads off to the war in Vietnam, still unresolved over the larger question of whether African Americans should be fighting for justice at home or abroad.
Directed by Alile Sharon Larkin. With Angela Burnett,
Patricia Bentley King
US 1979, 16mm, b/w, 30 min
This early film by Alile Sharon Larkin masterfully presents a child’s perspective on poverty, class and social inequality.
Directed by Larry Clark. With Nathaniel Taylor, Lyvonne Walder, Billy Middleton
US 1973, 16mm, color, 52 min
Larry Clark’s astonishing short feature evokes a Black community in crisis, divided between a narcotizing church that preaches quietism, depicted with savage Brechtian satire that nevertheless evinces a hint of affection, and militant struggle that is both in response to and inspired by U.S. military interventions throughout the Third World. “Like The Spook Who Sat By the Door and Gordon’s War, As Above So Below imagines a post-Watts rebellion state of siege and an organized Black underground plotting revolution. With sound excerpts from the 1968 HUAC report ‘Guerrilla Warfare Advocates in the United States,’ As Above So Below is one of the more politically radical films of the L.A. Rebellion.” – Allyson Nadia Field
Directed by Ben Caldwell
US 1973, digital video, color, 7 min
“[Ben] Caldwell invokes Amiri Baraka’s poem ‘Part of the Doctrine’ in this experimental meditation on art history, Black imagery, identity and heritage.” – Allyson Nadia Field
Directed by Ben Caldwell. With Pamela B. Jones, Al Cowart,
US 1979, 16mm, color, 32 min
“Drawing from Ayi Kwei Armah’s novel Two Thousand Seasons, Caldwell meditates on reciprocity and on the concept of ‘I and I’ which postulates no division between people, whereas the splitting of ‘you’ from ‘I’ is an invention of the devil designed to brew trouble in the world.” – Allyson Nadia FieldPreservation funded in part by a grant from the National Film Preservation Foundation
Directed by Don Amis
US 1974, digital video, color, 9 min
The title is Swahili for “Community Freedom School” and the name of the Afrocentric primary school in South Los Angeles depicted in this short documentary.
Directed by Elyseo J. Taylor. With Dan Slater
US 1971, digital video, color, 16 min
This introduction to 20th century African American art is accompanied by jazz and blues and by a conversation between director Elyseo Taylor and printmaker Dan Slater that outlines the specific pressures on Black artists: the difficulties of asserting aesthetic authority, the desire to reflect politically on race in the US and the necessity to suit white and middle-class Black tastes.
Directed by Julie Dash. With Linda Martina Young
US 1975, 16mm, color, 7 min
Julie Dash’s first work as a director is this dance film set to Nina Simone’s performance of the title song.
Directed by O.Funmilayo Makarah. With O.Funmilayo Makarah, Quinta Seward, Yreina D. Cervantez
US 1988, digital video, color, 5 min
O.Funmilayo Makarah's oblique meditation on the semiotics of ethnic female identity accompanies a cynical narration about how to “win an invitation to the dominant culture.”
Directed by Alicia Dhanifu
US 1979, digital video, color, 22 min
Filmmaker Alicia Dhanifu constructs a rigorous and beautifully rendered history of belly dancing – its roots and history, forms and meanings. The filmmaker performs this art as well, alone and with other dancers.
Directed by Don Amis
US 1982, digital video, color, 25 min
L.A.’s diverse racial and ethnic communities (African, Asian, Latin American) express themselves through a wide variety of masks, which come together in the annual festival documented by this film.
Directed by Jamaa Fanaka. With Jerri Hayes, Ernest Williams II, Charles D. Brooks III
US 1976, 35mm, color, 100 min
Jamaa Fanaka’s sympathetic look at a young woman who moves to Los Angeles from Mississippi in the wake of her mother’s death was released at the height of the Blaxploitation era as Black Sister’s Revenge. Mindful of his audience, Fanaka endows his heroine with formidable fighting skills. Nevertheless, with her plain looks and shy demeanor, Emma Mae is much more down to earth than the genre’s supervixens; similarly, the film’s clear-eyed sense of class and of sexual politics also sets it apart from others in the cycle. Although Fanaka draws on the Cinderella story, he is too much of a straight shooter to provide a fairy tale ending.
Directed by Jamaa Fanaka (as Walt Gordon). With Baby Katina, Walt, Lynn
US 1972, digital video, color, 16 min
Jamaa Fanaka’s student film is “a morality tale in two reels,” reinventing the Faust myth for the age of Superfly.