Seminal Cinema Outfit

Classic, Foreign and Rare Film

Film notes on The Medici: Godfathers of the Renaissance

Synopsis courtesy of TopDocumentaryFilms:

“From a small Italian community in 15th-century Florence, the Medici family would rise to rule Europe in many ways. Using charm, patronage, skill, duplicity and ruthlessness, they would amass unparalleled wealth and unprecedented power.

They would also ignite the most important cultural and artistic revolution in Western history–the European Renaissance. But the forces of change the Medici helped unleash would one day topple their ordered world. An epic drama played out in the courts, cathedrals and palaces of Europe, this series is both the tale of one family’s powerful ambition and of Europe’s tortured struggle to emerge from the ravages of the dark ages.

A tale of one family’s powerful ambition and of Europe’s struggle to emerge from the ravages of the Dark Ages. Beginning in the 14th century, The Medici used charm, skill and ruthlessness to garner unparalleled wealth and power. Standing at the helm of the Renaissance, they ruled Europe for more than 300 years and inspired the great artists, scientists and thinkers who gave birth to the modern world.

The playlist bellow contains 4 episodes, each about 55 minutes long, in HD: Birth of a Dynasty, The Magnificent Medici, The Medici Pope and Power vs. Truth.”

Film notes on Egypt’s Golden Empire

Synopsis courtesy of TopDocumenaryFilms:

Over 3,500 years ago, Rome was no more than a soggy marsh and the Acropolis was just an empty rock, but Egypt was on the brink of its greatest age – the New Kingdom.

There was an explosion of creativity, wealth and power in Egypt that would make it the envy of the world. After defeating the Hyksos invaders, successive Pharaohs expanded and maintained their Empire through both force and diplomacy.

In the process, they won Egypt vast amounts of gold, influence and respect. They included; Ahmose, Hatshepsut, Tuthmosis III, Amenhotep III, Akenhaten, Tutankhamen and Ramesses III. Behind the power of the Egyptian empire lay a vast wealth of natural resources.

Chief among these was the river Nile, the freeway of the ancient world, whose floodplains also provided huge expanses of fertile farming ground that kept Egypt self-sufficient and usually famine-free. Along the banks of the Nile, the humble papyrus plant was used to create a bureaucratic efficiency and cultural sophistication previously unknown to mankind. Episodes: 1. The Warrior Pharaohs, 2. Pharaohs of the Sun, and 3. The Last Great Pharaoh.

Film notes on Hailie Gerima

Haile Gerima (born March 4, 1946) is an Ethiopian filmmaker who lives and works in theUnited States. He is a leading member of the L.A. Rebellion film movement, also known as the Los Angeles School of Black Filmmakers.[1] His films have received wide international acclaim. Since 1975, Gerima has also been an influential film professor atHoward University in Washington, DC. He is best known for Sankofa (1993), which won numerous international awards.

Early years

Haile Gerima was born and raised in Gondar, Ethiopia. His father was a dramatist and playwright, who traveled across the Ethiopian countryside staging local plays. He was an important early influence.

Gerima emigrated to the United States in 1968 to study theatre. He enrolled in acting classes at the Goodman School of Drama in Chicago. “When I was growing up,” he told the Los Angeles Times, “I wanted to work in theater—it never occurred to me I could be a filmmaker because I was raised on Hollywood movies that pacified me to be subservient. Film making isn’t encouraged or supported by the Ethiopian government.”[citation needed] He felt limited by theater and was resigned, notes Francoise Pfaff, to “subservient roles in Western plays.”

In 1970 he moved to California to attend the University of California, where he earned Bachelor’s and Master’s of Fine Arts degrees in film. He was part of a generation of new black filmmakers who became known as the Los Angeles School of Black filmmakers, along with Charles Burnett (Killer of Sheep), Jamaa Fanaka (Penitentiary), Ben Caldwell (I and I), Larry Clark and Julie Dash (Daughters of the Dust).[1]

Film career

Early films

By the time Gerima graduated in 1976, he had completed four films:[2] Hour Glass (1972); Child of Resistance (1972); Bush Mama(1976); and Mirt Sost Shi Amit (also known as Harvest: 3,000 Years; 1976)

Gerima’s 1976 Bush Mama portrays the travails of Black life and culture, far removed from the drug deals and revenge killings of the contemporary films, Super Fly (1972) and Foxy Brown (1976). The film is the story of Dorothy and her husband T.C., a discharged Vietnam veteran who anticipated a hero’s welcome on his return. He is arrested and imprisoned for a crime he did not commit. Theirs is a world of welfare, perennial unemployment, and despair. The film has stark black-and-white photography, but its message is moving and distinct. It addresses issues of institutionalized racism, police brutality, and poverty; these remain pertinent.

For the production of Mirt Sost Shi Amit (Harvest: 3,000 Years)[3] Gerima returned to his native Ethiopia. It is an account of a poor peasant family who eke out an existence within a brutal, exploitative, and feudal system of labor.

His Wilmington 10—USA 10,000 (1978) explores racism and the shortcomings of the criminal justice system in the United States by examining the history of the nine Black men and one white woman who became known as the Wilmington Ten.


The travails of Black urban life in the United States are explored in the two-hour Ashes and Embers (1982), the story of a moody and disillusioned Black veteran of the Vietnam War.[4]

After Winter: Sterling Brown (1985) is a documentary about the notable Black American poet.


Gerima is perhaps best known as the writer, producer, and director of Sankofa (1993). This historically inspired dramatic tale of African resistance to slavery won international acclaim: awarded first prize at the African Film Festival in Milan, Italy; Best Cinematography at Africa’s premier Festival of Pan African Countries (FESPACO); and nominated for the Golden Bear at the 43rd Berlin International Film Festival,[5] where it competed with Hollywood films. The film attracted huge audiences across the United States, many of whom waited in long lines and filled theaters for weeks on end. The film defied the notion that only mainstreamdistributors could attract audiences for filmmakers. Guided by an independent philosophy, Gerima practiced an innovative strategy in distribution whose success remains unprecedented in African-American film history.

The film opens with the statement: “Spirit of the dead, rise up and claim your story!” It presents a brutally realistic portrayal of African slavery. The story is revealed through the eyes of Mona, a modern-day woman who is possessed by spirits and transported to the past as Shola, a house slave on the Lafayette plantation in Louisiana. The savagery and violence of the evil institution are clearly disturbing and go far beyond the safe and conventional images of slavery presented by Hollywood. In Sankofa, we hear the chilling sound of human flesh as it is seared with a hot branding iron and see the barren faces of the human cargo; women are stripped of all dignity and subject to the continual sexual exploitation of their owners; human necks are enclosed in iron shackles; and rape is used as a tool of terror and domination. Some critics panned Gerima for excess brutality, but the Black community responded positively and enthusiastically. The film was well received and played to full houses for many weeks in major cities.

Imperfect Journey (1994), commissioned by the BBC, explores the political and psychic recovery of the Ethiopian people after the political repression or “red terror” of the military junta of Mengistu Haile Mariam. The filmmaker suggests questions about the direction of the succeeding government and the will of the people in creating institutions guaranteeing their liberation.

Adwa: An African Victory (1999) is a documentary drama of the history of the 1896 battle, which concluded the war in which the Ethiopian people united to defeat the Italian army. Gerima used images of paintings and rare historical photographs, sound, music, and interviews of elders, who recall the details of the story of the battle. It concludes with a dramatic recreation of the final battle.


Gerima’s most recent film is Teza (2008). Set in Ethiopia and Germany, the film chronicles the return of an Ethiopian intellectual to his country of birth during the repressive Marxist regime of Mengistu Haile Mariam and the recognition of his own displacement and powerlessness at the dissolution of his people’s humanity and social values. After several years spent studying medicine in Germany, Anberber returns to Ethiopia only to find the country of his youth replaced by turmoil. His dream of using his craft to improve the health of Ethiopians is squashed by a military junta that uses scientists for their own political ends. Seeking the comfort of his countryside home, Anberber finds no refuge from violence. The solace that the memories of his youth provide is quickly replaced by the competing forces of military and rebelling factions. Anberber needs to decide whether he wants to bear the strain or piece together a life from the fragments that lie around him.

Independent distribution and Mypheduh Films Inc.

To gain more independence, Gerima and his wife Sirikiana Aina (who is also a filmmaker) in 1984 established a distribution company: Mypheduh Films Inc., for low-budget, independent films. They relied on this for his film Sankofa (1993).

Though well-established, Gerima, like many independent filmmakers, regrets failing to attract a mainstream audience. “I was never enamored of the film industry,” he said to the San Francisco Chronicle. “Every Hollywood story is Eurocentric and if it isn’t, then it will simply be disregarded. So I never wanted to be part of an industry that fails to represent the world as it really exists.”[citation needed]

Sankofa bookstore

He founded a bookstore/cafe/film center, located in the heart of the African-American community at 2714 Georgia Avenue, NW, in Washington, DC, named for his film and lead character.


Further reading

  • Cham, Mbye Baboucar (1984). “Art and Ideology in the Work of Sembene Ousmane and Haile Gerima.” Présence Africaine: Revue Culturelle du Monde Noir/Cultural Review of the Negro World, vol. 129, no. 1, pp. 79–91.
  • Alexander, George, and Janet Hill, eds. (2003). Why We Make Movies: Black Filmmakers Talk About the Magic of Cinema. New York: Harlem Moon.

Awards, nominations and distinctions

Over the course of his career, Gerima has received numerous awards and distinctions in film festivals.

  • 1976 – Grand prize / Silver Leopard for Harvest: 3,000 Years- Locarno
  • 1982 – Grand Prix Award for Ashes and Embers-Lisbon International Film Festival
  • 1983 – FIPRESCI Film Critics Award for Ashes and Embers-Berlin International Film Festival
  • Outstanding Production Ashes and Embers – London Film Festival
  • 1984 – Tribute Festival De la Rochelle, France
  • 1987 – Long Metrage De Fiction-Prix de la Ville de Alger for Ashes and Embers
  • 1993 – Best Cinematography Award for Sankofa, FESPACO, Burkina Faso
  • 2003 – Lifetime Achievement Award, 4th Annual Independence Film Festival, Washington D.C.
  • 2006 – Festival De Cannes Selection Official Cannes Classic -‘Harvest: 3,000 Years
  • 2008 – Venice Film Festival Special Jury Prize and Best Screen Play Award – Teza
  • 2009 – Jury Award at the 18th International Film Festival Innsbruck/Austria – Teza
  • 2009 – Golden Stallion of Yennenga at the FESPACO African Film Festival – Teza
  • 2009 – Dioraphte Award Hubert Bals film in highest audience regard at the Rotterdam Film Festival
  • 2009 – Golden Tanit/Best Film Award for its “modesty and genius,” Best Music (Jorga Mesfin Vijay Ayers), Best Cinematography (Mario Massini), Best Screenplay (Haile Gerima), Best Supporting Actor Abeye Tedla at the Carthage/Tunisia Film Festival forTeza
  • 2009 – Golden Unicorn and Best Feature Film at the Amiens/France International Film Festival France for Teza
  • 2009 -The Human Value’s Award at the Thessaloniki Film Festival in Greece for Teza
  • 2009 – Official Selection at the Toronto Film Festival for Teza

Film notes on Daughters in the Dust

Daughters of the Dust is a 1991 independent film written, directed and produced by Julie Dash; it is the first feature film by an African-American woman distributed theatrically in the United States. It tells the story of three generations of Gullah women in the Peazant family on St. Helena Island in 1902, as they prepare to migrate to the North.

Featuring an unusual narrative device, the film is told by the Unborn Child. Ancestors are part of the movie, as the Peazant family has lived on the island since their first people were brought as slaves centuries before. The movie gained critical praise, for its rich language and use of song, and lyrical use of visual imagery. It won awards at the Sundance Film Festival and others.

The film features Cora Lee Day, Alva Rogers, Barbara-O, Trula Hoosier, Vertamae Grosvenor, and Kaycee Moore. It was filmed on Saint Helena Island in South Carolina.

In 2004, Daughters of the Dust was selected for preservation in the United StatesNational Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.

Dash has published two books related to the film: Daughters of the Dust: The Making of an African-American Woman’s Film (1992), which includes the screenplay; andDaughters of the Dust: A Novel (1997), set 20 years after the events in the film.


Dash conceived of the film in 1975, originally planning it to be a short without dialogue, a visual account of a Gullah family’s preparation to leave their Sea Island home to a new life in the North. It was inspired by her father’s family, who were Gullah and had migrated to New York. As she developed it over 10 years, she added layers of meaning and clarified her artistic vision. Together with Arthur Jafa, her cinematographer and co-producer, she put together a short film to use for marketing.

She was initially rejected by Hollywood executives, as this was her first full-length film. Dash said they thought it was “too different”. She thought their reaction was part of a systematic exclusion of black women from Hollywood. Persisting, Dash finally got financing from PBSAmerican Showcase. Her work is the first feature film by an African-American woman to be distributed theatrically in the United States.[1]


Daughters of the Dust is set in 1902 among the members of the Peasant family, Gullah who live at Ebos Landing on St. Simons Island, Georgia.[2] Their ancestors were brought there as slaves centuries ago, and the islanders developed a language and culture that was creolized from West Africans, of Ibo, Yoruba, Kikongo, Mende, and Twi origin.[3] Developed in their relative isolation of large plantations on the islands, the slaves’ unique culture and language have endured in areas of the Low Country. The Peazant family, including a couple of contrasting daughters who have come back for a last dinner on the island, is meeting before most leave for the North. The film is narrated by the Unborn Child, and is influenced by accounts of ancestors, represented especially by Nana Peazant, the matriarch. She says, “We are two people in one body. The last of the old and the first of the new.” Lyrical visual images convey much of the story. The dialogue is in Gullah creole.[2]


In 1988, Dash secured funding from the PBS series, American Playhouse, and could begin work. She cast a number of veterans of black independent cinema in various roles, as a tribute to the work they had done and the sacrifices they had made, along with a mainly African-American crew. For the sake of authenticity and poetry, she used Gullah dialect in the film. Ronald Daise, author ofReminiscences of Sea Island Heritage (1987), was the dialect coach for her actors (none of whom knew Gullah). She chose not to use subtitles, preferring to have audiences be immersed in the language.

The film was shot in 28 days. Considering she had cast principal actors who were union members, as well as hired union technicians, her budget of $800,000 was very small. They filmed on St. Helena Island and Hunting Island, off the South Carolina coast.[4] Post-production began in January 1990 and took nearly through the end of 1991.[1][5]


Daughters of the Dust opened in January 1992 to critical acclaim. The Boston Globe called it “mesmerizing”; the Atlanta Constitution described it as “poetry in motion”; and the Village Voice said that it was “an unprecedented achievement.”[citation needed] At a 2005 festival showing, Michael Dembrow’s program notes said that it “explores the strands of West African and African-American experience and ties them into a cultural and spiritual knot, at once graceful, sturdy, and persevering.”[1]

The critic Roger Ebert wrote of the use of Gullah creole,

“The fact that some of the dialogue is deliberately difficult is not frustrating, but comforting; we relax like children at a family picnic, not understanding everything, but feeling at home with the expression of it.”[6]

Audiences were moved by the film; one woman told New York Magazine,

“It’s hard to explain. It makes you feel connected to all those before you that you never knew, to parents and grandparents and great-grandparents. I’m a different person now from seeing this movie. It’s a rejuvenation, a catharsis. Whatever color you are, people want to feel that sense of belonging.”[7]

Film notes on Welcome Home, Brother Charles

Synopsis courtesy of

“I have to tell you, getting this review just right was a major obstacle. Keith from Teleport City described my problem in a single sentence: “It’s very difficult to summarize the plot of ‘Soul Vengeance’ then convince people it’s actually a very boring movie.” Why is that? Well, this film is about a man using his lengthy penis to strangle people. Sounds like an amusing concept right? Sure it does, but go and read what Keith said again before continuing with my article.

Charles and N.D. are drug pushers working their turf on the streets of Watts. While waiting for a supplier to drop off the latest shipment they realize that pigs have staked out the motel. The repercussions of some Italian bigwig being busted are severe enough for them to purposely distract the cops by fleeing. Charles doesn’t quite make it, but N.D. scares the pants off Harry by leaping over him. Indignation clouds the officer’s already poor judgment and he begins beating Charles (who is handcuffed) in plain view of several citizens. Only a few years after the riots and a very racist white cop starts beating a black man for no obvious reason? Come to think of it, what is the charge? Running without a permit?”

Further reading

An excerpt from the review at The Dissolve:

“Welcome Home Brother Charles eventually builds into a horror movie that’s more about the scourge of racism than about the monster inside Charles’ trousers. In that respect, Charles’ penis—which may be the result of prison experiments, or may be supernatural in origin, it isn’t entirely clear—represents the return of the repressed: It is the monster created by a racist culture’s obsession with denying the masculinity of black men at any cost, including castration.”

An excerpt from the review at Daily Grindhouse:

“So yeah — whether rational or not, the idea that the black man is better equipped to provide good lovin’ and will consequently “ruin” the white woman for “her own kind” if he gets anywhere near her is a persistent one. Writer/director/cinematographer/composer Jamaa Fanaka (credited here with a hyphen between his names) — who would later go on to achieve his greatest B-movie successes with the PENITENTIARY series — certainly thought there was something to the whole idea, at least as a “cash cow,” and constructed his debut feature film, 1975′s WELCOME HOME BROTHER CHARLES (also released under the more generic-sounding-for-its-time title of SOUL VENGEANCE) around that very premise, with the end result being arguably the wildest and most absurd entry in the entire blaxploitation oeuvre.”

Film notes on Imperfect Journey

Imperfect Journey is a 1994 Ethiopian documentary film directed by Haile Gerima

Plot summary

Imperfect Journey is a BBC commissioned film, exploring the political and psychic recovery of the Ethiopian people after the atrocities and political repression or “red terror” of the military junta of Mengistu Haile Mariam. The filmmaker questions the direction of the succeeding government and the will of the people in creating institutions guaranteeing their liberation.


Further synopsis courtesy of Africa-Archive:

“IMPERFECT JOURNEY introduces the people Gerima and Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuscinski encounter as they survey the country. Their emerging narrative voices are Ethiopia’s collective conscience. Many of the stories are harrowing but always thought provoking: mothers whose sons have been murdered by the junta; hooded men who tell of the continuing oppression even of the current regime. Successive governments have always massacred students and officials of prior administrations. A professor points out that the university in Addis Ababa has always been portrayed as a hotbed of opposition by each regime: a communist breeding ground in Haile Selassie’s political scheme; reactionaries in the junta’s; ethnic chauvinists for the present administration – which claims to embrace national unity.”

Film notes on Jamaa Fanaka

Jamaa Fanaka (born Walter Gordon; September 6, 1942 – April 1, 2012) was an American filmmaker. He is best known for his 1979 film, Penitentiary and is one of the leading directors of the L.A. Rebellion film movement. Fanaka died on April 1, 2012.[1][2]

Early life and education

Fanaka was born Walter Gordon to Robert L. and Beatrice Gordon in Jackson, Mississippi.[3] In 1971, Fanaka was accepted into the film school at UCLA. His first film, “A Day in the Life of Willie Faust, or Death on the Installment Plan,” was a morality tale shot in 8mm film about a herion addict. The film stars Fanaka (credited as Walt Gordon) in the title role. It is the only narrative short he ever made. Jan-Christopher Horak of the UCLA Film Archives when comparing the movie with the 1972 blaxploitation film, Super Fly, released the same year, observed, “unlike Priest’s elegant cocaine consumption in Super Fly, Willie’s arm gushes blood as he injects heroin.”[4]

Later, he changed his name to Jamaa Fanaka. Ntongela Masilela states that while “a fundamental tenet of the Los Angeles schoolwas an opposition to Hollywood,” Fanaka was a notable exception. He describes Fanaka as “very much fascinated by Hollywood and averse to the contentious ideological and artistic discussions that were fundamental to the formation of the school.”[5]


During film school, Fanaka wrote, produced and directed Emma Mae (1974), about a young woman who arrives in Los Angeles fromMississippi to live with her mother’s sister and her family after her mother dies, and survives the culture shock that accompanies the move; Welcome Home, Brother Charles (1975), about the ravages and dire consequences of racism; and Penitentiary (1979), the story of a young man wrongly sent to prison, who, through his boxing talents, is able to win his freedom. Fanaka completed Street Wars in 1992. He was in extended production and post-production[clarification needed] on Hip Hop Hope, a documentary feature film on the underground Hip Hop culture.


  • “A Day in the Life of Willie Faust, or Death on the Installment Plan” (short, 1972)[4]
  • Emma Mae (1974)
  • Welcome Home, Brother Charles (1975)
  • Penitentiary (1979)
  • Penitentiary II (1982)
  • Penitentiary III (1987)
  • Street Wars (1992)


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