harlem nights (and days) better with a good film

Delicious croissant from Harlem’s Patisserie Des Ambassades lifted my spirits.

I arrived in New York for the Harlem International Film Festival (HIFF) a bit under the weather. Okay, I was totally busted. From the moment the plane took off in Birmingham until the moment it landed at LaGuardia, I knew and saw little. Fever, chills, nausea, aches, the works. And it’s only the fifth week of the semester!

But I am slowly on the mend. One of the things that rejuvenated me was simply meeting other filmmakers who have been in the trenches and know how hard the journey toward seeing a film’s release is. It’s no joke.  The first grant application for the film I’m presenting Sunday was written in 1994. Some of my students weren’t even alive then.

Tuermic ginger tea with lemon and honey from Serengeti Teas and Spices in Harlem.

Last night, finally feeling like the one-two punch I was feeling was easing – I am thinking it was seasonal allergies (the goldenrod is about to bloom in Alabama) and a virus –  I caught a cab to MIST Harlem. It is truly a magnificent venue that deserves a bigger following than it gets. Think coffee shop-like/bar/restaurant/movie theatre/cultural center in one massive site. Classy joint. In fact, it fits wonderfully into the bigger transition that a gentrifying Harlem seems to be making. I hope that the bounty is widely shared. One real gem is Serengeti Teas & Spices, a tea shop I visited. The turmeric ginger tea with lemon and honey has been a blessing to my sniffling, achy body.

The red carpet. Failed to get a group photo here, but will try it on Sunday.

But back to HIFF, I met the staff running the festival, among them the Director of Operations Lorenzo Roaché, a beautiful soul. No matter what didn’t get done, he never loses his grace and cool. Watching him from afar, I longed to be more like that. After I got my credentials and passes, I decided to watch at least one film and hurry back to my hotel. Yeah, right.

I saw Ed Ehrenberg’s Hear the Silence/Hore Die Stille, a film to which I was immediately drawn because it’s set during the Second World War, a pivotal moment for my “Bebop to Hip Hop: Young America and Music” class. Everything with which we are concerned has to do with what American life looks and sounds like after this war.

Ehrenberg’s film invites closer attention to what is happening on the other side of the pond, namely in a tiny Russian-German settlement populated mostly by women, children and the elderly. Hell breaks loose. Lots of folks die. I am usually squeamish, but this was beautifully told. I finally had an appetite and was freezing, but would not leave the theatre.

One of three theatres in MIST Harlem. Bring a sweater. It’s freezing in here, or I was sick! I think it’s the latter because other folks said they were cold.

I met Ed and Lundwig Franz, his Director of Photography, afterwards and he shared that the project began as a play. I wish him all the best as he heads next to Hickory, North Carolina to show the film again. If you live near Hickory, please see it.

While talking to Ed about his film, I met Jim Virga, an Assistant Professor in the Department of Cinema and Interactive Media at my alma mater, the University of Miami. Naturally, I was pleased to meet him because he works in my home state (and we ran in the same circles as journalists in South Florida; he brought back a lot of memories). I learned that his documentary, which will be shown at 6pm tonight at the HIFF, focuses on a jazz band at Dillard High, the school in Broward County where my paternal grandfather was once a school principal. Talk about small world. A rich conversation followed. Topics included community-business engagement in the Coconut Grove section of Miami, the first neighborhood I called home, with Liana Kozlowski of Shubin Bass in Miami.

If you are in the New York area, please support independent films by attending this festival. I also saw Soy Cubana, a short film shot in Cuba, about four women singers whose style is a mix of gospel and Afro Cuban music. For full description of all films, see this link. To purchase tickets, visit this link.

Lorenzo Roche, an unsung hero. He directs HIFF. It was truly a pleasure meeting him.

Although I am not feeling 100 percent, I plan to see what I can. I am also happy to announce that two of the musicians whose work is heard on “The Grant Green Story,” the film for which I am here, will have their own events in New York this weekend. Lacy James will perform with Moon Goddess, a collective, Saturday, Sept. 17, and jazz saxophonist Tom Tallitsch whose lovely sound can be heard on “Today in the City,” the theme song for “The Grant Green Story,” will perform the same night at Minton’s in Harlem. The music of Jahsee (a.k.a. Jesse Childs from my UChicago fam) also representing. Last time I’ll say it: “The Grant Green Story” will be shown at 4:10 pm in Theatre C at MIST Harlem, 46 W. 116 St. in – you know it – Harlem. Hope to see you there. But first, more rest.

PS At the risk of more self promotion than I want, I also wanted to share how my department helped promote this event by making me the subject of a faculty spotlight writing. Thanks, Molly, our Communications Committee student intern, for your great work. Thanks also to Sarah Steinbock-Pratt, John Ratliff and Sean Lafferty, for being great colleagues via, among other things, your work on our Communications Committee. I truly cherish the University of Alabama Department of History and the College of Arts & Sciences for all that you permit me to do as an instructor and artist. I will definitely try to show the film in Tuscaloosa before the year ends!

And oh yes, Alabama is playing Ole Miss this weekend. We lost last year and still won the national title as I told Virga last night. Hoping Saban and the team will take it this year. Roll Tide!

The premiere of “The Grant Green Story” in Harlem has special meaning for me because the late jazz guitarist suffered a fatal heart attack here in 1979 at the age of 43. It’s like his life and legacy are coming full circle. Can’t wait to share this homage to him on Sunday. Join us.

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