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Directors in Focus
In Retrospect: Charles Burnett

A key figure in the "L.A. Rebellion" of the 1970s, that movement of young African-American filmmakers who emerged from the UCLA Film School to create a new form of independent cinema, Charles Burnett has directed some of the finest films of the past two decades. His debut feature, the powerful family drama Killer of Sheep, was among the first contemporary works selected for the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress. To Sleep with Anger was honored by both the Los Angeles Film Critics Association and the National Society of Film Critics. His adaptation of the contemporary young people’s classic Nightjohn, made for cable television, was screened at film festivals and cinemathèques worldwide.

In 1988 Burnett was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellow-ship, and in 1997 he was the only American filmmaker commissioned by the prestigious international arts festival Documenta to create a new work in film. Burnett has made a career in filmmaking without abandoning the principles that guided his earliest work—a fundamental commitment to render the complex lives of his characters in the most nuanced detail and an unerring respect for the sensibilities of his audiences.


April 7 (Friday) 7 pm
April 8 (Saturday) 9:30 pm

When It Rains

Director Charles Burnett in Person
Directed by Charles Burnett
US 1996, video, color, 12 min.

Burnett takes an all-too-common social problem facing low-income families, the cycle of eviction and homelessness, and deftly transforms it into a celebratory lesson on the value of community.

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April 7 (Friday) 7 pm (with "When it Rains" above)
April 8 (Saturday) 9:30 pm (with "When it Rains" above)

Killer of Sheep

Director Charles Burnett in Person
Directed by Charles Burnett
US 1977, 35mm, b/w, 84 min.
With Henry Gayle Sanders, Kaycee Moore, Charles Bracy

Perhaps the most perceptive and poetic study ever made of Americans existing just above poverty, Burnett’s film revolves around Stan, a slaughterhouse worker struggling to maintain his integrity. Shot in gritty black and white, with a near-documentary technique and a cast of the director’s friends, Killer of Sheep presents an authenticity very rarely encountered in the cinema. In 1990, Burnett’s slice-of-life masterpiece was proclaimed a "national treasure" by the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress, and this year it has been honored by the Sundance FilmFestival as one of the first films named to the Sundance Collection.

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April 7 (Friday) 9:30 pm
April 9 (Sunday) 6 pm

The Final Insult

Directed by Charles Burnett
US 1997, video, color, 70 min.

The Final Insult presents a tragicomic portrait of urban life and the growing gap between the haves and the have-nots. At the interface of this modern social and economic divide, Burnett situates his allegorical protagonist "Box Brown," an affable African-American bank clerk named after a slave who gained his freedom by having himself shipped in a box from the South to the North. The situation is reversed for the contemporary Box Brown, who loses his economic freedom while, ironically, working as an auditor for Bank of America. The final insult comes after he envisions a revolutionary movement of "People Power" while trying to survive among the homeless.


April 8 (Saturday) 4 pm

NightJohn

Directed by Charles Burnett
US 1996, 35mm, color, 96 min.
With Carl Lumbly, Beau Bridges, Lorraine Toussaint

In this adaptation of Gary Paulsen’s inspirational novel, Burnett explores issues of rascism and economic oppression while discovering an indomitable human spirit that manages to perservere. Instead of South Central Los Angeles, however—the frequent terrain of Burnett’s filmic investigations—the setting is a plantation in the antebellum South. Carl Lumbly gives an extraordinary performance in the title role as a slave who refuses to lose his humanity and passes on the gift of literacy to a young slave girl.

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April 8 (Saturday) 7 pm

Olivia's Story

Director Charles Burnett in Person
Directed by Charles Burnett
US 1999, 16mm, color, 14 min.

A Little League baseball game becomes the unlikely context for this lyrical drama about memory and loss, told from the perspective of a Korean-American woman and her grandmother.

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April 8 (Saturday) 7 pm (with "Olivia’s Story" above)

To Sleep with Anger

Director Charles Burnett in Person
Directed by Charles Burnett
US 1990, 35mm, color, 105 min.
With Danny Glover, Paul Butler, Mary Alice

An ambitious mix of folklore and family feud, To Sleep with Anger presents the powerful, poetic, and humorous drama of a contemporary African-American family and the changes that overcome its members when an old friend shows up unannounced. The catalyst for the domestic turmoil is the arrival of Harry Mention (Glover), a brooding, malevolent charmer with a boxful of belongings and a century’s worth of folklore.

Like a character from the stories he tells, Harry magnifies familial conflicts, stirs suspicions, and brings the family to a perilous crossroads. Poised between mysticism and melodrama, the film muses on the complex relationships between present and past, good and evil, and on the enduring centrality of family bonds.

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