More than 250 filmmakers, filmgoers, sponsors, partners, Gene Siskel Film Center Advisory Board members, and members of the Black Harvest Community Council were present for Opening Night of the 25th Anniversary Black Harvest Film Festival on Saturday, August 3, at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St., in Chicago’s Loop. As arrivals of guests took place on the red carpet, a duo of musicians from the Chicago Sinfonietta performed in the Film Center’s Gallery/Café.

LeeAnn Trotter serves as the host for the Black Harvest Film Festival Opening Night event.

The evening got underway at 7 p.m. Mistress of Ceremonies was LeeAnn Trotter of NBC 5, the festival’s Premier Television Broadcast Sponsor; also at the podium welcoming guests were Gene Siskel Film Center Executive Director Jean de St. Aubin; Gene Siskel Film Center Director of Programming Barbara Scharres, who introduced the audience to the filmmakers; and Opening Night sponsor Chaz Ebert, who recognized Scharres, the founder of Black Harvest, on the milestone of 25 years with a commemorative award. Scharres also recognized her colleagues Marty Rubin, Associate Director of Programming, and Sergio Mims, Festival Consultant. It was Scharres’ vision and working with Mims since the festival was established in 1994 which has made Black Harvest—the name coming from the late journalist and original Black Harvest committee member who helped found Black Harvest, Terry Glover—one of the most successful Black film festivals in the nation.

Filmmakers who have films in this year’s festival, along with filmmakers who had work in previous Black Harvests, took to the stage for group photos. Filmmakers whose work was shown in the Opening Night program, A Black Harvest Feast, introduced their work which was funded thanks to The Joyce Foundation, The Chicago Community Trust, and Illinois Arts Alliance Agency. The filmmakers and the film production grants’ funding had been announced at the closing of the 24th Annual Black Harvest Film Festival on August 30, 2018. All recipients are Black filmmakers from the Midwest: Gian Smith (love tap); Derek Dow (Growing Pains); Daniel Williams (Play Day); Rashida KhanBey Miller (Sex is a God Thing); and Shahari Moore (Chicago Guy). Their films are five of approximately 50 films featuring approximately 50 guest appearances over the course of the month-long festival.

Second line musicians led guests across the street from the Gene Siskel Film Center to the reception at Joffrey Tower, 10 E. Randolph, where they enjoyed food created by Premier Catering. The anniversary birthday cake, adored with a large “25” topper and plenty of sparkle, was created by Brown Sugar Bakery. Leading guests in a round of “Happy Birthday” was radio personality and actress LaDonna Tittle. DJ I.N.C. provided ambiance as guests lingered past 11 pm.


The Opening Night affair was $50/general admission; $30/Film Center members and raised over $5,000 to support programming and educational initiatives at the Gene Siskel Film Center. Black Harvest continues through Thursday, August 29. Tickets (except for Opening Night) are $12/General Admission; $7/Students; and $6/Film Center Members. Festival Passes are available: $55 or 6 films and 6 small popcorns ($30 for Film Center Members). For more details, visit

Celebrating its 25th anniversary, the Black Harvest Film Festival is Midwest’s largest- and longest- running Black film festival and the Gene Siskel Film Center’s most vibrant annual showcase featuring provocative films that tell stories, spark lively discussions, and address issues relating to the experiences from the African diaspora. Black Harvest features Chicago premieres, filmmaker appearances, panel discussions, and special events. Presented are a combined total of over 50 features, documentaries, and shorts, including a number connected to Chicago, affirming the city’s role as a vital center for independent filmmaking. Black Harvest supports the Film Center’s ongoing mission to present inclusive and insightful


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