Every seat in the cozy, refurbished living room of the Black Cinema House was filled on Friday for the night’s screening. House staff and volunteers brought down small couches, turned over equipment trunks, and turned tables into makeshift chairs for the expectant audience of neighborhood residents, film buffs, local students, and filmmakers. “We only opened last October–it’s the first time I’ve seen it so packed,” noted House director Michael Phillips.
Located in the neighborhoods of South Shore and Greater Grand Crossing, the Black Cinema House provides community film screenings and educational workshops in partnership with local schools. The House is a project of the Rebuild Foundation, active across multiple Midwestern cities in providing alternative community spaces for art and founded by Chicago-based artist Theaster Gates. Part of a larger event series that kicked off on Thursday at the Gene Siskel Film Center downtown, these discussions will continue throughout the spring and summer across the city.
This night, the large crowd had descended on the Black Cinema House for the opening of “L.A. Rebellion, Creating a New Black Cinema.” As they settled in for the show, Jackie Stewart of the Chicago School of Media Theory introduced the night’s event as “a large-scale retrospective of an extraordinary movement of black artists from the mid-1960s to 1980s working to transform the African, African-American, and black image.” Though the L.A. Rebellion is largely a thing of the past, the huge crowd shows just how influential they still are.
With film and video shorts at times provocative and at others humorous, the three filmmakers involved in the project stepped up to present their past works and current projects with an eye to encouraging an ongoing spirit of independent and radical filmmaking. O. Funmilayo Makarah started off the night with a documentary piece of her reflections in the immediate aftermath of the Rodney King beating. Next came Barbara McCullough’s presentation of excerpts from a film piece on artistic ritual. Ben Caldwell then presented excerpts from his work in L.A. neighborhood youth arts and multimedia education.
In the discussion following the screenings, McCullough spoke of the importance of collaboration in the L.A. Rebellion: “As young, black filmmakers, sometimes there wasn’t as much to learn from the classrooms–we had the most to learn from each other.” Discussing inner-city youth arts organizing, Caldwell emphasized the “the slow process of educating the community that hooded youth on the streets doesn’t immediately mean ‘gangbangers,’ that these young black men could be out in the streets as active members of the community.” Makarah then called for all aspiring and practicing filmmakers in the room to stand and introduce their working projects, wrapping up the discussion with a foundation for new conversations and collaborations.