Starting Thursday, February 7, and continuing throughout the month of February, George Eastman Museum and The Little Theatre will each be hosting film series in honor of Black History Month. Spotlighting the unique voices of black filmmakers from around the world, these series get to the heart of what the movies do best, says Eastman Museum Curator of Film Exhibitions Jared Case. "The empathetic nature of cinema -- the ability for the audience member to put themselves in the situation of the characters on the screen -- is only helped by a diversity of voices," he says. "There's seven billion different ways of seeing the world, and whether it's male or female, American or foreign, the more we see from other people in our own country or around the world, the more empathetic we become to other's experiences."
First, the Eastman Museum and The Little will partner for a screening of the 1991 feature "Daughters of the Dust" sponsored by the Rochester Association of Black Journalists. Set in 1902, the film is a lush and lyrical look at the Gullah community, a population descended from Central and West African enslaved people that existed for generations, isolated from the mainland of Georgia and South Carolina. The plot finds a family coming together to celebrate their ancestors before some of them leave their home for the mainland. With this film, Julie Dash became the first African-American woman to direct a feature that received a general theatrical release in the United States. More recently, the film served as a major influence for Beyoncé's 2016 visual album "Lemonade." A panel discussion will follow the screening. (Thursday, February 7, 7:30 p.m.)
Each Thursday evening, the Dryden Theatre's Black Female Filmmakers series will continue to screen films from pioneering filmmakers whose work has helped inspire the current crop of black female directors making waves in Hollywood, including Dee Rees, Ava DuVernay, Gina Prince-Bythewood, and Angela Robinson.
Directed by Euzhan Palcy, "A Dry White Season" was in 1989 somehow only the first feature film produced by a major Hollywood studio (MGM) to be directed by a black woman. The film concerns a white middle-class teacher in South Africa whose comfortable life is upended when he asks questions about a young black boy who died in police custody, exposing him to the realities of the brutal apartheid regime. Returning from a nine-year acting hiatus, Marlon Brando earned what would be his final Oscar nomination for the film. (Thursday, February 14, 7:30 p.m.)
Cheryl Dunye's clever indie romantic-comedy "The Watermelon Woman" stars Dunye herself as a young woman who works as a video store clerk while pursuing her passion project: making a movie about a forgotten silent film actress of the 1930s, credited on screen only as The Watermelon Woman. A landmark of LGBTQ cinema, this was the first feature film directed by an out black lesbian. (Thursday, February 21, 7:30 p.m.)
Before you check out her Harriet Tubman biopic due out late this year, make time for actress-turned-director Kasi Lemmons' atmospheric Southern Gothic "Eve's Bayou," a haunting coming-of-age story following the dangerous chain of events that unfold after a young girl witnesses her beloved father (Samuel L. Jackson) having an affair. This was Roger Ebert's pick as the best film of 1997. (Thursday, February 28, 7:30 p.m.)
The Little Theatre's series continues with the inspiring documentary "Don't Be Nice," which follows New York City's Bowery Slam Poetry Team as they compete for the National Slam Poetry Championship in Atlanta during the summer of 2016. (Friday, February 15, 6:30 p.m., Little 1)
On October 22, 1963, more than 250,000 students boycotted the Chicago Public Schools to protest racial segregation. Civil Rights documentary short "'63 Boycott" acts as an oral history of the event, combining archival footage of the demonstration with current-day interviews with participants (all shot by director Gordon Quinn, who attended the protest as a 21-year-old). (Wednesday, February 27, 6:30 p.m., Little 5)