Keeping it Reel

A series at the Prince features films with an African-American focus.

By Rasheeda Ali
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Jan. 14, 2004

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On a dreary winter's evening last month, moviegoers and filmmakers gathered at the Prince Music Theater's Cinema Lounge for the first Reelblack Productions movie showcase. The host--local writer and director Michael Dennis--stepped before the audience.

"I'm not totally comfortable here," he began. "The reason I became a filmmaker was so I wouldn't have to do things like this."

But the man behind the camera has undeniable power. Recently granted a venue to present new films, Dennis is encouraging artists to submit works for his monthly screenings at the Cinema Lounge. The second installment is on Sunday.

The Reelblack Productions series features new independent projects and forgotten gems in African-American film. Dennis hopes the series will help artists gain recognition for their works.

"I want to do for film what Black Lily has done for music," he says. "Distribution is a major problem, so artists must find alternative ways to show their work."

The Reelblack showcase also gives filmmakers insight into what audiences look for in good movies. Patrons are urged to share their views on the films, creating what Dennis calls "active spectators."

Dennis believes mass audiences are passive, watching movies only for entertainment.

"The problem with the mainstream is it's all people see," he says. "And to them, it's all that exists. They don't express any emotion with films." In contrast, the crowd at the Reelblack showcase comes prepared to critically assess themes in both the independent shorts and full-length movies.

For Dennis, who used to work at Video Library in Mt. Airy, one of the best parts of running his own movie showcase is featuring his favorite films. He plans to highlight movies from the 1970s for upcoming screenings.

"We've lost something in black entertainment and culture," Dennis says, adding that most contemporary black movies are loaded with negative falsehoods and neglect issues facing African-Americans today.

Though the blaxploitation era spawned many stereotypical films, there were plenty of movies depicting the struggles of African-American life. Dennis recovers these cinematic jewels, dusts them off and prepares them for screening.

This Sunday's full-length, the obscure 1975 film That's the Way of the World (also known as Shining Star; see Repertory Film, p. 38), features Harvey Keitel as a disenchanted record executive peddling lucrative but untalented acts. This film, like others Dennis will present, tackles personal and social issues that remain relevant today.

Whether comedy or drama, films in the Reelblack series will certainly inspire creativity and initiate dialogue. And you won't have to worry about people kicking the back of your seat or stepping on those super-sticky floors.

Sun., Jan. 18, 2pm. Free. Prince Music Theater, 1412 Chestnut St. 215.569.9700.

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