GREAT FILMMAKER SERIES : The Essential Cinema of Haile Gerima


I met Haile Gerima, years ago; I was a young, writer/fan; covering a film showing, in the waning days, of the last great American metropolis.

I ended up interviewing Mr. Gerima for a paid writing gig, and rereading that article today (in a copy of the magazine it appeared in; in preparation for writing this blog), it is one of the things that I am happiest–  I was a part of.

What amazed me about mr. gerima, not just as a film-maker but as a person; was his solid understanding about, and dedication to, the part that telling your own stories, makes in the health of a people and a civilization. His films are a fantastic testament to the craft of the storyteller, and the importance of the story.

And if you have not seen his films (that all deserve to be picked up and released in a feature rich Criterion OR INDICATOR blu-ray version), today is the day you should correct that. Get the Dvds that are currently available, while they are available. click on images below.


***** Here begins the rant, feel free to skip this section, and go to the images; you can click them to get the movies********

Particularly SANKOFA is an absolute masterpiece. I don’t like the film ROOTS, I just don’t. If you do that’s fine, for me while ROOTS deals with an important historical issue, I find it is not enough to have an important topic, but film, being a visual medium has to be told in a visual way (otherwise it is better served via book). SANKOFA deals with the Holocaust (slave trade), in a way that only Haile Gerima could have done. It is where the horrors, are only outshone by the hope. and the ugliness, only out-paled by the screen drenched beauty.

From a people of magical realism, how else could the story be told, but with magical realism. It is one of the most exquisite, and wrenching, and impactful, and yes beautiful films i have ever seen, and I have seen everything from Demille to Lang to Ford to Kurosawa to Lean, and SANKOFA stands easily with the best of them.

Self-financed, self-made, self distributed, anathema to a Hollywood that wanted no parts of it, Gerima (one of the  UCLA class that helped define the Independent Film Movement), has made one of the great films in SANKOFA. And unfortunately it is, as of today, completely unavailable.

What an absolute crime. A crime against art, against history, against culture,

Now I have a copy of SANKOFA. Because I make it a point to buy challenging, and unique films by and about populations of color.

Films (or tv shows) that challenge the stereotypes, that mainstream media would have us accept as the truth; are always an endangered species.

I realize these films of color, these Pan-African films, are the films that rarely get financing for physical media releases, and if they do, it is only in very limited print runs, with historically no future printings. And worse are those filmmakers like Ousmane, whose best films never get a physical media release, and can only be viewed via cost prohibitive screening licenses. 

This is the type of marginalization, and lack of pan-african cinema (true independent cinemas going extinct in the last 4 decades, replaced by the franchised multiplexes), lack of visions of color, that Gerima made SANKOFA to address, and almost 30 years after its filming, SANKOFA itself has become a victim of this cinematic apartheid, this still simmering Holocaust.

During the days of Oscar Micheaux, a hundred years ago, he alone made over 40 films (how much over, is unclear) and most of the films we do know about, no longer exist/are available. That is a lot of history, burnt up.

So these days when I hear of a filmmaker like Gerima, or Mambety or Ousmane or Gordon Parks, whose best work is unavailable, and under represented, and under-championed; I buy these films (physical media), when I see them. Because I understand, for the most part, these are not the films the mainstream is going to make time to preserve.

For all the talk of physical media is dying, I trust the tangibility of physical media over the licensing deals and changing agendas of streaming.

So you and I, by the simple act of owning physical media, and talking about these films and filmmakers; we do what generations of collectors before us have done, who saved countless radio shows, and movies, and tv shows, that would otherwise have been destroyed by the very studios that made them.

We help art and cinema, persist.


Here endeth the rant. Below are links to the films in question.

***********End of RANT*****************

SANKOFA is a film I am going to continue jumping up and down for, until the film gets the quality, feature rich, physical media release it deserves. That is one of my missions this year.
Currently his other two films, TEZA and ADWA are available. Don’t wait till those two, also disappear. Pick them up, by clicking on the images below.


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