Kino Lorber have been restoring and distributing classic cinema for thirty years but this is the first time they’ve turned to Kickstarter for help. Pioneers of African-American Cinema will be a Blu-Ray and DVD release comprising features, shorts, fragments and interviews from an (unsurprisingly) neglected chapter of American film history.
From the 1920s to ‘40s, African-American filmmakers like Oscar Micheaux, Spencer Williams and Richard D. Maurice – and women like Zora Neale Hurston and Eloyce Gist – were at the forefront of a new, distinctly African-American cinema. These aren’t the so-called ‘race films’ - made by white directors within the Studio System for black audiences - but were actually “funded, written, produced, directed, distributed, and often exhibited by people of colour” outside Hollywood. Moreover, they weren’t derivative but demonstrate a visual and narrative language “that were uniquely their own”.
With the help of DJ Spooky, the silent films will be re-scored. Some of these scores will replicate their contemporaneous equivalents but some will be distinctly modern to avoid historicising and petrifying these important works. There’ll also be a photobook, programme essays and interviews with cultural historians but, to be honest, the biggest reason to help out is the films themselves. Films like:
Eleven P.M. - Richard D. Maurice’s bizarre mix of spiritualism and sentimentality “follows an impoverished violinist who tries to protect a young girl from entering a life of sin”. See the poster above for more details.
Commandment Keeper Church - a 40-minute ethnological documentary directed by Zora Neale Hurston examining the practices of a black church in the Deep South.
Verdict Not Guilty - The first film co-directed by an African-American woman (it was the husband-and-wife team of James and Eloyce Gist) was intended to be shown, not in a cinema, but in a church right before the sermon.
So there you go, a documentary from 1940 made by an African-American woman, an absurd morality tale dressed as a B-movie, and a radical intervention in African-American society…These are artefacts worth rescuing; this is a Kickstarter worth funding.