U.S., 2002, 56 min, 2K DCP, Dir. Camille Billops & James Hatch, Not Rated, Third World Newsreel

A String of Pearls

Monday, March 20

"For Camille Billops, autobiography is a means to a new black documentary style." —B. Ruby Rich, Sight and Sound Magazine

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This screening includes a conversation with Imani Warren moderated by Dr. Terri Francis.

With this film, Camille Billops completes her family's trilogy—three documentaries that cover more than thirty years: Suzanne Suzanne, shown in the New Director's series at the Museum of Modern Art in 1982 revealed how abuse of Suzanne by her father led to her drug addiction. Finding Christa, winner of the Grand Jury Prize at Sundance in 1992, told how Camille's unwanted pregnancy led her to put Christa up for adoption and how Christa returned twenty years later to confront her mother.

Now, A String of Pearls turns the camera to four generations of men in Camille's family and considers why their fathers died so young. The camera turns to the grandsons, Michael and Peter. Both are handsome, winsome and in jeopardy. Both are without education, jobs or skills to earn a living, and both have children they cannot support. We want them to live, but two doctors from the local hospital trauma ward describe the streets of Los Angeles as a war zone, where the US military sends its doctors to learn about gunshot wounds. In A String of Pearls, Camille takes a hard look into the hearts of the black men in her family. In this film, love blooms.

Click here to read Thinking Through Camille Billops, Dr. Terri Francis’ essay about the pioneering filmmaker.

Screening of A String of Pearls will be preceded by Take Your Bags.

Take Your Bags
written and directed by Camille Billops & James Hatch
11 min

Camille Billops explores the legacy of slavery and the theft of cultural memory.

Click here to learn more about the film.

Join us this Women's History Month for A String of Pearls: The Films of Camille Billops & James Hatch, a retrospective series guest programmed by Dr. Terri Francis.

About the series

The first-ever worldwide theatrical retrospective of the complete films of Camille Billops and James Hatch centers Black cultural life and storytelling on screen with six autobiographical works that innovate documentary form and artfully weave together personal histories and social issues.

Camille Billops (1933-2019) was a fearless filmmaker, artist, sculptor, historian, archivist, and staunch supporter of Black art and artists. Billops came into her own within the converging contexts of the 1960s civil and human rights struggles, New York's emerging Black artists movement, and her personal struggles for affirmation. Her work is autobiographical, interpretive, and challenging. Without apology, she successfully drew from her life's experiences, her education, and her observations of the world around her to carve out a space for her voice to be heard. She and her husband James made their loft in SoHo a hub for artistic collaborations, collecting thousands of books, documents, photographs, and ephemera related to Black culture. They held salons with Black artists, performers, and musicians, and recorded more than 1,200 oral histories, which were published in an annual journal called Artist and Influence.

James V. Hatch (1928-2020) was a historian of Black theater who taught English and theater at the City College of New York for three decades. He has written and co-written more than a dozen books, including The Roots of African American Drama: An Anthology of Early Plays, 1858-1938" (1990), which he edited with Leo Hamalian, and Sorrow Is the Only Faithful One: The Life of Owen Dodson (1993), about the titular Black poet and playwright.

Camille Billops and James Hatch made six films together, starting with Suzanne, Suzanne (1982) and ending with A String of Pearls (2002). At the time of Billops' death the two were working on their final film, Mama and Papa Lala, which is still left incomplete. All films in this retrospective have been newly digitized in 2K, with a special 4K restoration of Suzanne, Suzanne.

About Dr. Terri Francis

Terri Francis is associate professor in the School of Communication at the University of Miami and the author of Josephine Baker’s Cinematic Prism (Indiana University Press, 2021). Francis is a 2022 Andy Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grantee for her forthcoming book Make that Art!: Kevin Jerome Everson’s Body of Work. Her art writing has appeared in exhibition catalogs as well as the publications Mubi Notebook, Another Gaze, Bitch, Seen, Revue Initiales: Joséphine Baker Directed by Women, Lithub, Salon, and Shadow and Act. Her writing about black performance, film, and the conundrums of black representation has been featured in the academic journals Film History, Black Camera, Transition, Feminist Media Histories, ASAP, and Film Quarterly. From 2017–21, Francis directed the Black Film Center & Archive at Indiana University and secured the donation of African filmmaker Paulin Soumanou Vieyra’s written archive in addition to curating several film series, including Race Swap, Black Sun/White Moon and Love! I’m in Love!, and hosting several speakers series.

Francis is a frequent guest speaker and panel moderator, and she delivered the 2021 Rajiv Vaidya Memorial Lecture for the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. With Betsy Stirratt she co-curated and published the catalog for the film installation Rough and Unequal: A Film by Kevin Jerome Everson. As a member of the editorial board of the Journal of Cinema and Media Studies, Francis edited the open-access dossier Film Programming as Social Justice Work in the Wake of Covid-19, featuring essays from programmers, platform founders, and writers about their work during the summer of 2020.

Check out the rest of our A String of Pearls: The Films of Camille Billops & James Hatch retrospective program!