The Gene Siskel Center’s Black Harvest at the Heart of Black Culture

A scene from "In the Morning,"a film screening in the Black Harvest Film Festival.
A scene from “In the Morning,”a film screening in the Black Harvest Film Festival.

Writer and director Nefertite Nguvu sat quietly in her theater chair. Her film “In The Morning” was playing at the historic Gene Siskel Film Center and the room was filled with supporters and other moviegoers. Smiling, in a flowing emerald green dress that was just as bright as her personality, she thanked attendees for sharing in her joy by coming out to see the film after the screen rose.
“Any time that I get to share the film with an audience is an amazing opportunity,” Nguvu said. “It took me two years to finish the movie and the thing that sustained me is thinking about all the folks—like those who came out tonight—who would see themselves reflected in it.”
The film is one of many screening during the month-long Black Harvest Film Festival. It is in its 21st year and is held annually at the historic Gene Siskel Film Center of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, a theater known for its diverse film selection. Films range in genre, variety, and length, but they all have one thing in common—they are created from a black perspective. Although these films can appeal to mass audiences, black audiences have the opportunity to see themselves, their history, and their lives on the big screen.
“Nefertite is an artist of the highest realm,” said JoNell Kennedy, one of the film’s lead actresses. “In the first conversation I had with her, she was so connected and she was so clear about what her vision was that I had a hard time saying no.”

New Jersey-born Nguvu pumped a ton of passion into her Brooklyn-rooted project. “In The Morning” is a film about black love’s and its accompanying dynamics. Immaculately dressed black actors spill poetic lines.
“I meet so many women who are special and interesting, but I don’t really see films about women I know,” Nguvu said. “We live these really cool, complicated lives. But when we see movies, like romantic comedies, everyone has to be these broad characters that are really one way. I don’t respond to that.”

In addition to displaying the works of filmmakers with incredible fiction prowess like Nguvu, Black Harvest features a number of documentaries.
Barbara Allen is the producer of  “Standing on Common Ground: My Spring Break in New Orleans, Ten Years Later.” The documentary short is a sequel, which follows writer and director Evan Allen-Gessesse as he returns to New Orleans a decade post-Katrina. For Allen, the length of the festival makes it an extra special opportunity for filmmakers to share their works with larger audiences.

“It’s a great film festival. I’ve been in it before and I love supporting it. It’s also the only festival that lasts a month long so the excitement and word-of-mouth builds up.”

Allen said he wants this content to motivate viewers, influencing them take the film’s lessons home to their own communities.
“I want them to take away that it’s important to be involved in your own community,” Allen said. “We all have to live together.”
For new filmmakers, Black Harvest can be an opportunity to debut their work and begin to grow their audiences on an esteemed platform.
D’Tura Hale started at the Gene Siskel Film Center as an intern, but returned this year after graduating from Columbia College as a featured filmmaker. Her film “Away from the Mountain” is about a father—a respected lieutenant—who comes home early and learns an unsettling secret about his son.
To Hale, being able to have a film in the festival is a proud accomplishment, one that’s made even more significant by the film’s subject matter.
“My film is definitely a bit more intense than some I’ve seen so far,” Hale said. “It’s something that a lot of people can relate to and it’s a little bit scary, but that’s because it’s real. I want people to really think about how important life is itself.”
The Black Harvest Film Festival runs until Sept. 3. Ticket information and film schedule can be found at

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