Projecting the New Thing: Black Experimental Film in the Wake of the Black Arts
02 February. Curated by Brent H. Edwards, Projecting the New Thing: Black Experimental Film in the Wake of the Black Arts explores the aesthetic experiments of black filmmakers in the 1960s and 70s, when a number of African American artists began to explore 16mm film as a medium for black aesthetics. Working independently, taking advantage of sporadic and fleeting government funding or institutional support when they could, a number of black writers and musicians turned to film with an eye to the possibilities of crafting a visionary cinema. Their projects emerged in a variety of circumstances: More than simply a documentary, Amiri Baraka’s 1968 The New-Ark offers a bold and formally innovative portrait of the cultural nationalism of the Spirit House Movers and the Committee for a Unified Newark. Saxophonist Alan “Juice” Glover’s 1969 Birth — supported in part by a Columbia outreach effort after the controversy over the university’s plans to build a gymnasium in Morningside Park — depicts the coming to consciousness of a young black man in surrealistic tones inspired by Buñuel’s Un Chien Andalou. A fragmented diasporic dream suite set against the stark realities of St. Louis, the 1972 Sweet Willie Rollbar’s Orientation (with an evocative soundtrack by Julius Hemphill) is one of the legendary productions of the Black Artists’ Group. Taken together, these seldom-seen short films amount to a remarkable record of trans-medium experimentation in the years before the emergence of independent black feature film directors such as Bill Gunn, Kathleen Collins, Larry Clark, Charles Burnett, and Julie Dash.