“I had experiences on the stage that I didn’t think were possible and then a strange thing happened. On the stage, I was complete and perfect, lacking no essential characteristic, nothing. The curtain came down and, ‘Who am I? Who am I?’” As Beah Richards remembers acting, she is, of course, acting again. And in her performance here, as elsewhere, she is complete and perfect, powerful, moving, and fierce. “Here” is Beah: A Black Woman Speaks, a film by LisaGay Hamilton, who recorded the actor, poet, and playwright during the last year of her life. Richards died in 2000, of emphysema, having moved from California back to her childhood home in Vicksburg, Mississippi—where she was cremated and “spread over the Confederate graveyard,” according to her wishes, so that she might “take that struggle with her into eternity.”
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“He was doing his job and she was the loyal wife,” says Carl Colby. “My mother believed in what he was doing, but it had to be moral, it had to be right.” Best remembered as the director of the CIA from 1973 to ‘76, William Colby emerges in his son’s carefully researched film, The Man Nobody Knew: In Search of My Father CIA Spymaster William Colby, as a puzzle. “He was tougher, smarter, smoother, and could be crueler than anybody I ever knew,” narrates Carl over family photos, his dad looking awkward in camping gear. The film—screening at Stranger Than Fiction on 13 March, followed by a Q&A with Carl Colby—sets the son’s contemplations alongside interviews with his father’s colleagues and footage of the events Colby tried to control: the coup that killed Nhu and Diệm Ngô, the Phoenix Program in Vietnam (an aborted experiment that spawned subsequent counterinsurgency strategies), the CIA’s assassinations. The film presents Colby as a product of his time, a soldier who parachuted from planes, who followed orders, who believed America’s interventions and his own “confessional” testimony before the Church Committee might “do good.”
Shukree Hassan Tilghman wants to end Black History Month. He’s got his reasons, and most of them are familiar: for one thing, by “relegating” black history to one short month each year, it keeps American histories separate and unequal. For another, it generates a Black History commercial products industry that demeans the very history it means to celebrate. To track his quest, he’s made a film, More Than a Month. And now that film is screening on the last leap-yeared day of 2012’s Black History Month as part of
Maysles Cinema’s Doc Watchers series, followed by a Q&A with Tilghman and Anthony Riddle, Managing Director of the Maysles Institute and descendant of Dr. Carter Woodson, creator of Negro History Week. The film raises serious questions while offering a bit of antic framing, interviewing people with investments in history, then pondering how those investments have come to be. As the film seeks value in Black History Month, to understand the purposes it serves, it also finds value in ongoing debates over it.
See PopMatters’ review.
“The original title was ‘The Nigger Who Sat by the Door,’” remembers Sam Greenlee. “But when Dick Gregory brought out this book called Nigger, I figured he had taken the sting out of it.” And so the writer of The Spook Who Sat by the Door decided on a “much more subtle” title, as “spooks” refer to blacks, CIA agents, and “the armed revolution by black people [that] haunts white America, and has for centuries.” Greenlee’s memories are among the most vivid in Christine Acham and Clifford Ward’s documentary, Infiltrating Hollywood: The Rise and Fall of the Spook Who Sat by the Door, which premieres on the Documentary Channel on 28 February. As he and other participants—including actors J.A. Preston and David Lemieux, as well as editor Michael Kahn and Berlie Dixon, widow of director Ivan Dixon—it becomes clear not only how difficult it was to make the movie, but also how clever and committed they were to getting it made.
Late last year, Nuon Chea, better known as Brother Number 2, was charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, in a UN-based court in Phnom Penh. On the second day, the prosecution played a clip from a documentary, Thet Sambath and Rob Lemkin’s Enemies of the People.
The film uses multiple interviews with Nuon Chea, conducted over years, to tell the story of the Khmer Rouge from a distinctly, agonizingly personal perspective. Sambath begins by remembering his father’s murder. “They arrested him and took him to the rice field. They killed him by thrashing by knives,” Sambath says. “He did not die immediate. He very, very suffer. My brother, he watch.” Now a senior reporter with the Phnom Penh Post, Sambath has spent years seeking answers to the question that has shaped his life: “Why the killing happened.” His film includes interviews with several killers, now living un-special lives in villages, as well as Nuon Chea. As these interview subjects sift through memories, they sound variously true and delusional, fragmented and self-serving, working their way to confessions in roundabout ways. You can’t know whether this is a function of fading memories, confusion or deliberate obfuscation. “Frankly,” one says, laughing weakly, “Without the wine, we wouldn’t dare kill people.” At the same time, the film’s compositions insist on the layers of storytelling, showing multiple frames within frames, arranged in camera lenses and mirrors, doorways and monitors. The effect is complex, brilliant, and devastating.