Locarno Festival to Spotlight Black Cinema From Around The World

As black filmmakers gain more traction within the Hollywood studio system, the Locarno Film Festival is putting the spotlight on black cinema around the world with a major retrospective titled Black Light set to kick off with Spike Lee’s “Do The Right Thing” freshly restored by Universal in 4K for the landmark race drama’s 30th anniversary.

The more than 40-title Black Light retro spans from Oscar Micheaux’s 1920 silent drama “Within Our Gates,” which is the oldest known surviving film by an African-American director and portrays the struggle of a mixed-race school teacher in the Deep South, to Christopher Harris’s 2000 doc “Still Here” depicting the more recent blight of U.S. neighborhoods inhabited almost exclusively by African Americans.

Titles screening from outside the U.S. comprise Senegalese auteur Osmane Sembene’s 1966 “The black girl from …” based on a Sembene short and considered sub-Saharan Africa’s first feature film; 1974 Cuban romantic drama “De cierta manera” (“One Way or Another”) by Sara Gomez; and France-based Mauritanian director Med Hondo’s 1979 musical “West Indies” which narrates the history of the West Indies through centuries of French oppression. 

“We cannot speak of a single black cinema any more than we can speak of one Africa,”  the retro’s curator Greg de Cuir Jr. points out. Locarno’s Black Light therefore will be presenting a wide range of works with “internationalism” as its basic selection criteria, “all of them contributing to moving the conversation forward.”

Popular on Variety

The U.S. does however feature prominently in Locarno’s Black Light retro just as black filmmakers made history in 2018, accounting for 14% percent of the directors of the top 100-grossing movies coming out of the Hollywood studios according to report by the USC Annenberg Inclusion Initiative. That’s a 270% increase over 2017. Ryan Coogler’s “Black Panther,” Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman,” and Steven Caple Jr.’s “Creed II” all contributed to raising the average.

In fact titles out of the U.S. account for nearly half the Locarno retro’s titles with works of all genres from the experimental “Symbiopsychotaxiplasm: Take One” (1968) by American American pioneer William Greaves to cult Blaxploitation pic “Coffy” starring Pam Grier as a nurse who becomes a vigilante; “Sweek Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song” (1971) by Melvin Van Peebles; the late John Singleton’s debut “Boyz N The Hood”; Lee’s “She’s Gotta Have it”; and artist Cauleen Smith’s 1998 feature film debut “Drylongso” about a young woman who spends her time taking Polaroids of African-American men to document their existence, out of fear that they will soon be extinct but in the process begins to realize that she, too, is in jeopardy.

Locarno’s new artistic director Lili Hinstin, who came up with the idea for the Black Light retrospective after another planned retro that was supposed to celebrate Blake Edwards was cancelled in March, said the idea was “to go beyond the #MeToo movement and explore the representation of minorities through the black issue.”

After bowing in Locarno Black Light is set to travel across Europe into 2020 having being already booked for stopovers at the EYE Filmmuseum in Amsterdam, the Arsenal in Berlin and the Cineteca in Madrid.

The 72nd edition of Locarno, which is dedicated to global indie cinema, will run in the Swiss lakeside town Aug 7-17.

Lee’s “Do The Right Thing” will screen as a pre-opening event in Locarno’s huge open air Piazza Grande venue on Aug 6.


More Film

  • Young Hunter

    'Young Hunter': Film Review

    Director-writer Marco Berger has been playing with same-sex seduction since his debut, “Plan B,” frequently pitching one confident gay man against a more closeted or curious conquest. Eleven years after that first feature, his latest, “Young Hunter,” continues to riff on the same theme, here exhibiting parallels with the entrapment scenario of 2011’s “Absent” in [...]

  • Kumail Nanjiani Stuber

    Film News Roundup: Kumail Nanjiani Boards Political Thriller 'The Independent'

    In today’s film news roundup, Kumail Nanjiani has been cast as a journalist, Daisy Ridley boards Imax’s “Asteroid Hunters,” “Best Summer Ever” leads off a festival, Shelley Duvall gets an honor and “Dark Harvest” lands at MGM. PROJECT LAUNCH Kumail Nanjiani will star in the political thriller “The Independent,” which is being introduced to buyers [...]

  • Balloon

    'Balloon': Film Review

    On paper, the plight of a pair of families fleeing 1979’s East Germany in a hot air balloon sounds like fabricated fodder for a spy novel. But as implausible as it sounds, this “The Mysterious Island”-esque grand escape from Deutschland’s then walled-in, oppressive slice really did happen. And nearly four decades after being the subject [...]

  • J.D. Dillard Star Wars

    New 'Star Wars' Movie in Development With 'Sleight' Director, 'Luke Cage' Writer

    Lucasfilm is developing a new “Star Wars” feature film with “Sleight” writer-director J.D. Dillard and “Luke Cage” writer Matt Owens, Variety has confirmed. The project is still in its very early stages, and all further details — characters, location, time period within the “Star Wars” creative galaxy — remain a mystery. That includes whether Dillard would [...]

  • Foster Boy

    Shaquille O'Neal on Why Foster Care Is the Great Untold Story

    It’s no secret that I have suffered some losses lately. For better or worse, my pain and grief are public. But I understand the opportunity to face the pain, learn from it, and model a behavior. I wouldn’t want it any other way. But there are hundreds of thousands of kids across the U.S. — [...]

  • Emerald Run

    'Emerald Run': Film Review

    “Emerald Run” is one of the weirdest hodgepodges to make its way to theater screens and digital platforms in quite some time. Unfortunately, oddness is just about the only thing this muddled little indie has going for it. Despite the game efforts of lead actor David Chokachi and attractive lensing by DP Michael Caradonna, the [...]

  • The Call of the Wild

    Box Office: 'Call of the Wild' in Surprisingly Tight Race With 'Sonic the Hedgehog'

    “The Call of the Wild” and “Sonic the Hedgehog” are in a tight race for first place at North American multiplexes, with as much as $27 million each, early estimates showed on Friday. Disney-20th Century’s launch of Harrison Ford’s “The Call of the Wild” is coming in well above pre-release forecasts, which had been in [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content