Last year's Black Harvest Film Festival. The annual event kicks off again on Friday and runs through Nov. 16. Credit: Provided/Justine Bursoni

THE LOOP — The Black Harvest Film Festival, opening Friday in the Loop, will screen films celebrating Black hope and triumph.

The 29th annual festival runs through Nov. 16 at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St., and includes 20 feature films and 10 short programs.

This year’s theme is “revolutionary visions,” highlighting Black imaginations across time and space. Its films tackle subjects like jazz music, Black Barbie, the struggle for Black land and more.

When organizing the event, Black Harvest curator Jada-Amina Harvey — who goes by their first name only for professional purposes and uses she/they pronouns — said they wanted to expand the film festival’s audience beyond arthouse cinema lovers. Black cinema isn’t just for people who consider themselves cinephiles, she said. 

“The goal was never to exclude anyone but more so to center Black folks,” Jada-Amina said. “I want this festival to be a place where people belong.”

The theme of the festival felt prolific and generative to Jada-Amina, guiding her to select films that feel committed to liberation and justice, she said.

“I definitely wanted to respond to that call [of revolutionary visions] by programming films that were expansive and dynamic,” she said. “Anything that is not celebratory and triumphant, we’ve shied away from intentionally, because we want this space to feel like a respite from all of the reality.”

The festival does feature documentaries, but not ones that center trauma or violence, Jada-Amina said.

As part of the “revolutionary visions” theme, this year’s festival also pay tribute to visionary Black filmmakers of the past.

Black Harvest Film Festival co-founder and consultant Sergio Mims, who had been involved in every previous festival since the event started in 1994, died in October 2022. 

That made planning this year’s event a “roller coaster,” coordinator Nick Leffel said. It also pushed Leffel to think about the importance of preserving the revolutionary voices of the past.

“Being able to push for space, visibility right within the film industry for Black voices and Black narrative and Black documentary has been an extremely crucial part of the history of film,” he said. “When you watch a film, obviously maybe everybody in it has passed away or something, but their voice and their legacy and their memory lives on.”

For a century now, cinema has helped people relate to each other and learn about history and culture, Leffel said. He and Jada-Amina hope moviegoers get to appreciate that at the Black Harvest Film Festival.

“Black Harvest and the Gene Siskel Film Center at large is the sort of cultural hub where people come to bear witness to themselves, to each other through cinema,” Jada-Amina said.

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