Thursday, October 13 – Truffaut Theater – 4:10 pm
(Screening ends at 5:30 pm)
+ Short Film Presentation: FACELESS


Presented in Association with:
Arte France
Women in Film


North American Premiere | France | 2022 | Documentary | 52 min | In English 

Directed by: Catherine Bernstein, Martine Delumeau
Written by: Catherine Bernstein, Martine Delumeau
Produced by: Steven Gautier (Pop’Films), Cyril Perez & Gilles Perez (13 Prods), Philip Hart & Tanya Hart, Arte
Cinematography: Jérôme Colin
Film Editing: Catherine Bernstein, Martine Delumeau
Cast: Melvin Van Peebles, Mario Van Peebles, Reginald Hudlin, Mike Sargent
International Sales: Arte France
Original Broadcast: Arte France and Arte Germany, March 2022

In 1971, Melvin Van Peebles, an independent filmmaker far ahead of his time, released a mind-blowing piece of avant-garde cinema — Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song.  It broke all the rules, inventing its own grammar and proclaiming its emancipation from cinematic conventions.  It turned the Hollywood studio system on its head, creatively sidestepping prevailing constraints and scrounging up alternative financing.  Most importantly, Van Peebles splashed Black Power across the big screen in a way people had never seen before, depicting a heroic character who both defies “the man” and illustrates the oppression of Blacks, from slavery to the Watts riots.  The film cost $150K to produce and took in $15.2 million at the box-office, to become the highest-grossing independent film of all time.  Hollywood took notice and, in response, created a whole new genre, churning out cheap blaxploitation pictures.  In Van Peeble’s own words, “Hollywood took my formula, diminished the concept of Negritude to a flamboyant cartoon, and reversed the political message, turning it into a counter-revolutionary one…  And voilà!”  Despite the fact that Sweet Sweetback has inspired many filmmakers of color to make movies outside the Hollywood machine and mindset, its message is sadly just as relevant today as it was 50 years ago.  This fascinating documentary is the story of that saga.

Catherine Bernstein‘s first short film, Zohra on the Beach (1996) was honored at the Locarno Short Film Festival. She went on to direct numerous award-winning documentaries for television, including Murder of a Hatmaker (2006); Le voyage encyclopédique de Michel Serres (2008); Asylum (2008); Naked (2009); Alan Turing, The Code of Life (2013); Le Libraire (2015); T4, un médecin sous le nazisme (2016); and Fritz Bauer: Prosecutor of the Nazis (2018).  Sorbonne graduate Martine Delumeau currently teaches at La Fémis film school in Paris.  Her documentaries for Arte, France 5 and France 2 have focused on immigration, racial discrimination, health in the workplace, and the disabled. They include Dassler contre Dassler, Adidas contre Puma (2014) and Le véritable coût de l’immigration (2015). For the past four years, she has overseen L’œil et la main, a documentary series on sign language, facilitating an ongoing dialogue between deaf people and the hearing world, for France 5.

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