From a John Singleton Retrospective to ten programs of shorts across the Black diasporic experience, there’s something for everyone to enjoy at The Black Harvest Film Festival. The TRiiBE spoke with Jada-Amina Harvey and Nick Leffel, the lead curator and the festival coordinator, about their intentions behind this year’s far-reaching lineup and its power to change perspectives.

The TRiiBE: Tell us more about the theme, ‘Revolutionary Visions.’

HARVEY: Yeah, I think when we landed on that language – and I speak about this in the Gazette – I was really cautious about using the word revolutionary. Especially understanding that we're working at the Siskel and our audience for a long time has looked different year round than it does during our Black Harvest festival season. There's just a lot of responsibility that comes with that word and making sure that we were being good stewards of this work by using that language. I started to think very expansively about revolution, and about Assata Shakur’s unpacking of what revolution is; what it means to be a revolutionary and thinking about these sort of ideas of radical love, radical compassion, community, Black love, Black joy, Black liberation, Black queer love, and all of its essence. The way we run the festival, and our programming response to the theme is largely picking up on and underscoring some of those things. 

LEFFEL: I would also add that our previous co-founder, Sergio Mims, who had been part of the team that created Black Harvest in the first place, had passed away right before the festival started this past year. He did a lot of planning, but this is the very first festival where we completely don't have him. So this is the first time that the torch is being passed on to us. We wanted, in the name and in the theme, for it to be a tribute and to be able to represent his legacy.

Chicago is known for its activism and organizing and pushback. This past month, we've seen a rise in protests and a standoff between public opinion and media narratives. Specifically, the struggles for migrant rights here in Chicago, and also Palestinian rights with the genocide that's happening there. Where do you see Black Harvest in conversation with this civil disobedience?

LEFFEL: We have been waiting so long to be able to talk about this. As someone who's half Middle Eastern as well and has cousins who are being affected by what's happening right now in Palestine, a win for the general people in any genocidal attribution – Sudan, the Congo – is a win for us. A win for anybody is a win for another community, because it's all a part of a system of solidarity. I know I'm going to be wearing my keffiyeh for these Q and A's, able to talk about things narratively and openly. To have films that are about Black liberation, and interdimensional artistic practice, in this festival is our way to push a better narrative in the public eye for all the people attending. Just being able to show these films says that next time you look at your phone, you're gonna think twice about some of the things you might see. 

HARVEY: Anytime we are championing Black stories and Black life is a win for us all in understanding that this sort of global operandi is built on this black and white dichotomy. So everywhere you go, your liberation is dependent on where you're situated in the scope of whiteness and Blackness, and on that spectrum. I'm thinking a lot about how beyond our histories being tethered and our futures being tethered, our now is tethered. We are each other. If we are on Earth at the same time, we’re sharing a home. It's a really simple thing that has been complicated by fascism, and all the things. If we are championing our stories, we're championing the Black person in the Middle East, in Asia.

The Chicago-based ‘FROM THE BLOCK’ shorts are split into SURREAL (fiction), and FOR REAL (documentaries). What do you want audiences to get out of these programs?

HARVEY: The counter archive building, it’s very important because if we leave it to the media to represent our city, our stories, our lives...I'm a Black person from Chicago who's lost people to violence. Some of those things are true about our city. But what also is taking place in the city is a lot of radical care. We are a grassroots city, we care like no other city. I really am grateful to be from a city like Chicago. We're thinking a lot about trying to tell this complete narrative, specifically about Black Chicagoans that feels holistic and representative of just the expanse of beauty and rich culture that we have here in Chicago.


LEFFEL: FOR THE CRIB, about the South Shore Drill Team at the Bud Billiken Parade.

HARVEY: That’s my favorite [FOR THE CRIB]. It’s Lawrence Agyei’s debut as a filmmaker. I've known Lawrence loosely for years. So to see his launch into filmmaking, it's just freaking incredible.This is the gift of programming this festival, from the curatorial perspective, from the coordinator perspective, just getting to see these people enter into the cinematic realm, and sort of sharpen their oyster knife and forge through the art world in these radical and experimental ways.

FOR THE CRIB // Lawrence Agyei
FOR THE CRIB // Lawrence Agyei

Top BHFF picks?

LEFFEL: BURNT MILK, in our experimental section. 

HARVEY: I would also say A different kind of tender and GAINING GROUND.

The Black Harvest Film Festival’s opening reception is Friday, November 3rd. The festival runs from November 3rd – 16th. See the full lineup here.

is assistant to the publisher for The TRiiBE.