Fondren festival focuses on rare ‘race movies’

DVD box artSMU’s internationally famous collection of black independent films from the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s will be showcased from 7-10 p.m. Oct. 26-27 as part of the Fondren Library AV Bi-Annual Film Festival.

The G. William Jones Film and Video Collection in SMU’s Hamon Arts Library is home to the Tyler, Texas Black Film Collection, from which the festival screenings were chosen. These “race movies,” shown mostly in the segregated movie houses of the mid-20th century American South, were discovered in an East Texas warehouse on miraculously well-preserved nitrate stock in 1983. Transferred to safety film in 1985, several were digitally restored and released in a 3-DVD boxed set in 2004.

“These films stand as a testimony to the history of black independent film in the United States, to the skill and artistry that have existed in the genre for much longer than many people may know,” says Tinsley Silcox, director of public services for SMU’s Central University Libraries (CUL). “They’re also an undistorted glimpse of African-American life in the early 20th century, devoid of the usual Hollywood stereotypes. They’re very representative of African-American self-consciousness of the time.”

Silcox and Rick Worland, professor of cinema-TV in SMU’s Meadows School of the Arts, will host the festival and provide commentary on the films. All screenings will be held in McCord Auditorium, 306 Dallas Hall. Admission is free and open to the public.

The complete schedule:

Movie poster for 'The Broken Earth'Monday, Oct. 26

  • Introduction by Tinsley Silcox
  • The Broken Earth (1939) – A one-reel drama starring Clarence Muse as a hard-working sharecropper whose son becomes ill with a fever. In its acting, writing and cinematography, “this is a powerful, powerful statement that shows the depth and breadth of talent in these films,” Silcox says. It’s an especially important showcase for Muse, whose acting career spanned more than 60 years and included many major Hollywood releases, he adds. “At a time when most mainstream black film characters were servants and comic relief, Muse’s artistry in this role demonstrated the very high dramatic standards African-American performers could achieve.”
  • Juke Joint (1947) – Shot in Dallas, this feature stars pioneering actor-director Spencer Williams and Texas native Robert Orr (credited here under the screen name July Jones) as a pair of con artists, down and out in the Southwest, who pose as theatrical experts to help a girl win a beauty pageant.
  • Midnight Shadow (1939) – Carnival performer Prince Alihabad takes an interest in the daughter of an Old South family when he learns they have oil property in Texas. The daughter’s boyfriend becomes jealous, and murder ensues.

    Movie poster for 'Dirty Gertie from Harlem U.S.A.'Tuesday, Oct. 27

  • Introduction by Rick Worland
  • Dirty Gertie from Harlem U.S.A. (1946) – In a screenplay based on W. Somerset Maugham‘s short story Rain, a sexy dancer shakes things up in a sleepy Caribbean island resort.
  • By-Line Newsreels (1953-56) – Newsreels featuring interviews with black government officials in the Eisenhower administration, including Carmel Marr, United Nations employee; Ernest Wilkins, Assistant Secretary of Labor; Samuel Pierce, Undersecretary of Labor; E. Frederick Morrow, one of President Eisenhower’s top aides; and Lois Lippman, the first black member of the White House staff.
  • Vanities (Harlem Hot Shots) (1946) – Charles Keith is the master of ceremonies of a nightclub act.

    For more information, contact Lisa Wall at 214-768-4397.

    Read more about the Tyler, Texas Black Film Collection
    Find more digitized content at the CUL Digital Collections homepage

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