March 14, 2022

Filmmakers Kahlil Joseph, Onye Anyanwu, Bradford Young, and John Akomfrah screen their work in Black Earth Film Series

The Lewis Center for the Arts’ Program in Visual Arts presents the final two events in the Black Earth Film Series organized by Princeton professor Deana Lawson in collaboration with Visiting Professor Tina Campt. The first event, on Tuesday, March 22 at 6:00 p.m., will feature a conversation with filmmakers Kahlil Joseph, Onye Anyanwu, and Bradford Young with Lawson and Campt. The second event, on Tuesday, March 29 at 6:00 p.m., will include a screening of John Akomfrah’s The Call of Mist (Redux) (2012) and Handsworth Songs (1986) followed by a virtual Q&A with the filmmaker. Both events will be held in the James Stewart Film Theater at 185 Nassau Street and are free and open to the public. Advance tickets are required through University Ticketing. Guests are required to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 to the maximum extent, which now includes a COVID booster for all those eligible to receive it, and to wear a mask when indoors. Speakers may be unmasked when presenting. The venue is wheelchair accessible. Audience members in need of access accommodations are invited to contact the Lewis Center at at least one week prior to the event date.

collage of images with concentric circles in BLKNWS letters

An image from Kahlil Joseph’s multimedia project BLKNWS. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Kahlil Joseph

The March 22 event will begin with showings of BLKNWS (2019) and REkOGNIZE (2012). Exploring film as a powerful collective experience that can be manipulated through its essential visual and audio components, BLKNWS reflects upon the contemporary period through samples of popular culture, archival material, and filmed news desk segments that expose the glaring underdevelopment of the news media format through a distinctly Black lens. Joseph classifies his film genre as fugitive broadcasting: BLKNWS presents an uninterrupted stream of highly curated found footage, originally produced segments, and current and historical news clips in a two-channel format that resists reactive narratives in favor of free-flowing knowledge association. Conceived by Joseph as a conceptual post-media company operating as a work of art, BLKNWS is held in collections of fine art museums around the world while actively collaborating with Harvard University and The Vinyl Factory in print and media. In 2019, Joseph received a VIA Production Acquisition Grant to support the international debut of BLKNWS at the 58th Venice Biennale. BLKNWS was incubated at the Cantor Arts Center at Stanford University through roundtable discussions with faculty, staff, and students as part of Joseph’s 2018-2019 Presidential Residency on the Future of Arts. The work premiered at the 2020 Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontiers program in conjunction with limited screenings at 12 art house theaters nationwide, including New York’s IFC Center. BLKNWS was a cornerstone project of the fifth iteration of the Hammer Museum’s biennial exhibition Made in LA 2020: a version, installed at both the Hammer and satellite broadcasts in predominantly Black-owned businesses and civic centers throughout Los Angeles.

REkOGNIZE (2012) is a three-channel video installation and a meditation on photography, memory, and movement. The film features artist and academy award-nominated cinematographer Bradford Young’s footage of Pittsburgh’s Hill District, tunnels, and translations of several Charles “Teenie” Harris photographs into matrices of metadata; the Hill District was a site of the early 20th-century Great Migration. During this time, millions of African Americans moved from the rural southern United States to cities in the north and west. The Hill District saw a flourishing of culture during these years and was a site of artistic development for luminaries such as August Wilson, Charles “Teenie” Harris, Errol Garner, and many others. REkOGNIZE takes its visual cues from the Pittsburgh landscape, especially the city’s tunnels, which serve not only as literal entry points into the city but also as metaphors for this movement of people and culture. Young’s interdisciplinary approach to Harris’s images asks us to reflect on the power of photographs from the past to inspire work today. In doing so, they blur the boundaries between still and moving image, analog and digital, and visual and auditory experiences.

A Los Angeles-based artist and filmmaker, Kahlil Joseph is best known for his large-scale video installations. In 2016, he was nominated for an Emmy award for his co-direction of Beyoncé’s visual album Lemonade. He is a recipient of a 2016 John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship, a 2017 Los Angeles Artadia Award, and a 2020 Herb Alpert Award in the Arts for Film & Video. The New Yorker describes Joseph as “a creator of intellectually and emotionally dense films showcasing black excellence, strangeness, and history.” In addition to his personal practice, Joseph serves as the artistic director of The Underground Museum, a pioneering independent art museum, exhibition space and community hub in Los Angeles that he co-founded with his sister-in-law, Karon Davis, and his late brother, artist and curator Noah Davis.

Onye Anyanwu is currently producing an untitled BLKNWS feature film with A24 and Participant Media, which is an expansion of the ongoing project conceived by husband and creative partner Kahlil Joseph. Anyanwu’s work weaves through the avant-garde and the everyday to expand the boundaries of narrative and experimental filmmaking. She began her career in New York City as a casting director working with directors such as Mark Romanek and Paul Hunter. She is co-founder of Gamma Wave Films, a Los Angeles-based film and fine art production company that has collaborated with artists including Arthur Jafa, FKA twigs, Sampha, and Kendrick Lamar. Since the inception of Gamma Wave Films, Anyanwu has produced genre-defying artworks that are held in collections of art museums and institutions around the world. She is also a founding member of The Underground Museum.

Originally from Louisville, Kentucky, Bradford Young is a cinematographer and visual artist who most recently worked with Ava DuVernay on When They See Us and Selma, for which Young was nominated for an Independent Spirit Award for Best Cinematography in a Motion Picture. Young has also worked with Denis Villeneuve on Arrival, for which he received nominations for an Academy Award and a British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) award for achievement in cinematography, as well as with Ron Howard on Solo: A Star Wars Story, and JC Chandor on A Most Violent Year. Young’s work on David Lowrey’s Ain’t Them Bodies Saints and Andrew Dosunmu’s Mother of George earned two Sundance U.S. Dramatic Competition Excellence in Cinematography awards in 2013. Young’s other films include Dee Rees’ Pariah, for which he won the 2011 Sundance U.S. Dramatic Competition Excellence in Cinematography award, DuVernay’s Middle of Nowhere; Tina Mabry’s Mississippi Damned; Paola Mendoza’s Entre Nos; and Andrew Dosunmu’s Restless City. Additionally, Young is a co-founder and CEO of TRIBE 7, a film optics company specializing in customizable lenses and color science for film production.

group of children standing in line look off in distance

An image from John Akomfrah’s 1986 film, “Handsworth Songs.” Photo Credit: © Smoking Dogs Films; Courtesy Smoking Dogs Films and Lisson Gallery

The March 29th event will begin with the showing of two of filmmaker John Akomfrah’s films. The Call of Mist (Redux) (2012), set on a remote Scottish island, is an elegy to Akomfrah’s late mother, and a vivid meditation on death, memory and cloning. Initially commissioned in 1998 for the BBC, the 2012 re-edited version incorporates additional images that were removed from the television version, recovering Akomfrah’s original conception. Handsworth Songs (1986) is a richly layered documentary representing the hopes and dreams of post-war Black British people in the light of the civil disturbances of the 1980s. It engages with Britain’s colonial past, public and private memories, and the struggles of race and class. The title refers to the riots in Handsworth, Birmingham during September 1985. The soundtrack is influenced by reggae, punk and the post-industrial noise movement.

Filmmaker John Akomfrah’s works are characterized by their investigations into memory, post-colonialism, temporality, and aesthetics, and often explores the experiences of migrant diasporas globally. Akomfrah was a founding member of the Black Audio Film Collective, which started in London in 1982 alongside the artists David Lawson and Lina Gopaul, with whom he still collaborates today. Handsworth Songs (1986) was the Collective’s first film. In 2015, Akomfrah premiered his three-screen film installation Vertigo Sea (2015), which explores what Ralph Waldo Emerson calls ‘the sublime seas’, by fusing archival material, readings from classical sources, and newly shot footage of the disorder and cruelty of the whaling industry and juxtaposes it with scenes of many generations of migrants making epic crossings of the ocean for a better life. In 2017, Akomfrah presented his largest film installation to date, Purple (2017), at the Barbican in London, co-commissioned by Bildmuseet Umeå, Sweden, TBA21—Academy, The Institute of Contemporary Art/ Boston, Museu Coleção Berardo, Lisbon and Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, Moscow. The six-channel video installation addresses climate change, human communities and the wilderness. In the same year, Akomfrah debuted Precarity (2017) at Prospect 4 New Orleans, following the life of forgotten New Orleans jazz singer Charles ‘Buddy’ Bolden. On the occasion of his participation at the first Ghana Pavilion at the 58th Venice Biennale, Akomfrah presented Four Nocturnes (2019), a new three-channel piece that reflects on the complex intertwined relationship between humanity’s destruction of the natural world and our destruction of ourselves. Additionally, he has been featured in many international film festivals, including Sundance Film Festival (2013 and 2011) and Toronto International Film Festival (2012). He was awarded the Artes Mundi Prize in 2017.

The Black Earth Film Series, organized by Lawson and Campt, is, on one hand, a meditation on Earth’s landscape through a deep dive into one of the primary materials that supports and sustains it: soil. It engages soil in its most elevated state, as nutrient rich black soil that nurtures and enriches a multitude of species. On the other hand, it homes in on Earth as a social ecology inhabited, shaped, and enlivened by Black genius.

Lawson, a member of the Princeton faculty since 2012, was the recipient of the 2020 Hugo Boss Prize awarded by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation by a jury of international critics and curators, the first photographer to win this prestigious biennial award. She received an honorarium of $100,000 and a solo exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in 2021. Lawson’s work was included in the 2017 Whitney Biennial, New Photography 2011, at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, and she had a solo exhibition at The Art Institute of Chicago in 2015. She has participated in group exhibitions at The Studio Museum, Harlem; MoMA P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center; Artists Space in New York; and the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art in Atlanta. Her work has been published in The New Yorker, TIME Magazine, BOMB, The Collector’s Guide to New Art Photography, Photo District News, Time Out New York, Contact Sheet #154, and PQ Journal for Contemporary Photography. In addition to the Hugo Boss Prize, Lawson is the recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship, the John Gutmann Photography Fellowship, a Rema Hort Mann Foundation Grant, an Aaron Siskind Fellowship Grant, and a New York Foundation for the Arts Grant.

In addition to being a visiting professor at Princeton this year, Campt is Owen F. Walker Professor of Humanities and Modern Culture and Media at Brown University and a Research Associate at the Visual Identities in Art and Design Research Centre (VIAD) at the University of Johannesburg, South Africa. She is the author of four books: Other Germans: Black Germans and the Politics of Race, Gender and Memory in the Third Reich (2004); Image Matters: Archive, Photography and the African Diaspora in Europe (2012); Listening to Images (2017); and A Black Gaze (2021).

The film series is supported through the John Sacret Young ’69 Lecture Series fund. Sacret Young (1946-2021) was a 1969 graduate of Princeton and an author, producer, director, and screenwriter. He was nominated for seven Emmy Awards and seven Writers Guild of America (WGA) Awards, winning two WGA Awards. He is perhaps best known for co-creating, along with William F. Broyles Jr., China Beach, the critically acclaimed ABC-TV drama series about medics and nurses during the Vietnam War, and for his work on the television drama The West Wing. Young also received a Golden Globe and a Peabody Award, and his original mini-series about the Gulf War, Thanks of a Grateful Nation, was honored with his fifth Humanitas Prize nomination.

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