Black World. A retrospective of Camille Billops & James V. Hatch at 14. AFF

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When we say that during the American Film Festival you can explore films outside the mainstream – we don't throw words to the wind. This applies to both new films and retrospectives, which are designed not only to introduce widely respected filmmakers, but also to shed light on those who remain unjustly marginalized. That is why we are pleased to announce that the featured retrospective at this year's festival will focus on the duo of Camille Billops and James V. Hatch.

The world of cinephiles momentarily came to a standstill when "Sight & Sound" magazine announced last December that Jeanne Dielman, 23 quai du Commerce, 1080 Bruxelles, directed by Chantal Akerman, had won in their ranking of the best films of all time, which is compiled by the editors every decade. This victory triggered a wave of reflection regarding the presence of women in the canon of cinema, and on its horizon in general. And although the films of Camille Billops and her partner, James V. Hatch, cannot be found in the aforementioned list, they are part of rewriting cinema history, which should begin to include voices that have been overlooked for years. In this particular case: the voices of Black women.

The axis of Billops and Hatch's cinema is defined by the artist's family and environment. While the 1970s were dominated by the blaxploitation trend, which undeniably gave Black protagonists the power and subjectivity, the duo decided to go in a completely different direction in the 1980s. Their films are part of a niche group of Black feminist documentary works. The placement of Billops and Hatch's films in this global and historical context makes it clear where to look for the tradition of documentary with ethnographic qualities, depicting the daily lives of Black Americans.

Billops entered the art world as a sculptor, ceramicist, costume and jewelry designer, only reaching for the camera in her mature age. In tandem with James V. Hatch, her life and professional partner, she was a creative force, a drive, a challenge, which he – a researcher of Black theater – took up, supported and developed with all his knowledge and passion. They collected and left behind an impressive archive of Black art. Their most personal legacy is their documentaries, known by analogy to one of their titles as the "string of pearls" of American Black documentary filmmaking.

In retrospect, Billops-Hatch films strongly resonate with the ideas of key figures in Black feminism, coinciding with groundbreaking works by prominent feminist philosophers. In her book Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center, bell hooks highlighted the stark differences in experiences between middle-class White women and Black women for which issues such as abortion, racism, and the drug war were profound concerns, often intertwined with the broader struggles shared with men.

Their documentaries, as described by Billops, do more than prescribe how things should be; they reveal how things are. They present a candid view, exposing widespread racism, even within communities of color. At the same time, they exude warmth and faith in reason, making things better than they initially seemed.

The program includes short and medium-length films, as well as the duo's manifesto feature film The KKK Boutique Ain't Just Rednecks, in which the creators try to remember when they learned racism and conclude that socialization on the issue goes unnoticed.

In addition, the retrospective will feature Suzanne, Suzanne – a portrait of Billops' drug-addicted niece, Finding Christa – an attempt by a mother-director to rebuild a broken relationship with her own daughter, Older Women and Love, which depicts mixed-race couples by age and background, Take Your Bag, which is a short, post-colonial story about slavery, and the last film made by the duo, A String of Pearls, which presents men from the filmmaker's family confronting gender stereotypes and the hardships of fatherhood. All of them are stories that are on the one hand political and on the other: intimate.

You can read more about Billops-Hatch's work in Monica Talarczyk's curatorial text.

Read the curatorial text

The sale of passes and media accreditations for the 14th American Film Festival continues until October 20. The full program of the festival will be announced on October 24. Tickets for on-site screenings and online film access will be available for purchase the following day.

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