U.S., 1998, 11 min, 2K DCP, Dir. Camille Billops, Not Rated, Third World Newsreel
“A meditation on the spiritual, intellectual, and artistic pillage—the stealing of “dreams and memories”—that accompanied the theft of people.” —Yasmina Price, Criterion Collection
This short film will precede the screening of A String of Pearls. Learn more here.
Camille Billops explores the legacy of slavery and the theft of cultural memory. In Take Your Bags, the filmmaker shares her take on slavery, "when the Africans boarded the ships bound for America, they carried in their bags all their memories of home. When they arrived in the New World, their bags had been switched... Many generations later, the children of these Africans toured the Museum of Modern Art to see the sculptures and art of Picasso, Braque and Matisse. Lo! There were the beautiful icons of their ancestors, the images that had been stolen from their bags." This film was commissioned by the National Black Arts Festival and by filmmaker Louis Massiah, the founder and director of Scribe Video Center in Philadelphia.
This series is guest programmed by Dr. Terri Francis, click here to read her essay about Camille Billops.
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.