One in a Crowd: Pioneers of African-American Cinema
Kino Lorber to curate remarkable historical document
By Richard Whittaker,
10:00AM, Fri. Feb. 6, 2015
There are many lost and secret corners of cinema. With their next big restoration project, DVD house Kino Lorber aims to give a whole swath of lost movies and a pantheon of early filmmakers their due respect with Pioneers of African-American Cinema, a four-disc retrospective of a little-known part of American movie history.
This was a scene led by outsiders in cities away from Hollywood, where African-American creatives were restricted to dancing parts, sidekick roles, and racist depictions of tribal natives. As for writing and directing, that was an impossible dream, so instead some took matters into their own hands, and made films on their own terms. Many were the earliest of the true regional indies, such as Detroit-based director and union activist Richard Maurice, and the first major independent African-American filmmaker Oscar Micheaux, whose textured depictions of race relations in the era of Jim Crow were critical and commercial successes.
However, many of these films have either been lost or simply ignored, and Kino Lorber will collect eight of them, including Micheaux's Within Our Gates, and rare documentaries such as Commandment Keeper Church by Their Eyes Were Watching God novelist Zora Neale Hurston. There will also be films by white directors featuring African-American casts, such as the work of Richard E. Norman, whose Jacksonville-based Norman Studios undermined racial stereotypes in films and serials such as the two-fisted adventure The Flying Ace.
The films are already in archives, along with a large number of shorts and partial fragments of lost titles. However, many are in poor condition, and long overdue for restoration. Kino Lorber aims to spend the next year creating new masters of all these films and preparing for a February 2016 release date, just in time for Black History Month.
That's where the crowdfunding comes in. Not only will the films be restored and preserved, but there will also be new video interviews and newly commissioned essays, intended to put these movies back into their cultural and historical contexts.
Since many of these films date back to the silent era, the studio is working with DJ Spooky (aka cultural and and civil rights activist, and SXSW Eco speaker, Paul D. Miller) to curate contemporary scores for the entire project. There will also be historically accurate keyboard scores for the traditionalists in the audience.
One in a Crowd is a series intended to showcase Texas film and tech projects that are crowdfunding their way to a goal, be it distribution, a prototype, or production costs. If you have a project that we should know about, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.