The Gene Siskel Film Center has named Jada-Amina Harvey as the lead curator for this year’s Black Harvest Film Festival. The festival is in its 29th year and will run from November 3rd through November 16th. The festival will show 20 feature-length films. There will be 10 short film programs, as well. This year’s theme is “Revolutionary Visions.”
Jada-Amina graduated with a BFA, with an emphasis in New Genres and Art History, from The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. The Gene Siskel Film Center is a public program of the school.
I had a chance to interview Jada-Amina. We spoke about Black Harvest and her thoughts on her new position.
Born and raised in Chicago, she grew up going to the festival. To be in charge feels like a full-circle moment: “Now I’m on the other side of the seats, officially speaking from the podium. It is truly a blessing.”
Jada-Amina describes being the lead curator of the festival as “very surreal.” With an optimistic outlook, she told me that things are abundant right now. “I think with abundance comes a lot of responsibility. We have to manage our time wisely and be resourceful. My cup is very full. It’s overflowing.”
As she was writing her opening night speech, she was thinking of the late founder of Black Harvest, Sergio Mims, and his legacy. She realized that she was planting her seeds. Sergio passed away last year in October. For this year’s festival, the Gene Siskel Film Center has dedicated the Sergio Mims Fund for Black Excellence in Filmmaking to honor the legacy of the late founder of the Black Harvest Film Festival.
Jada-Amina, along with Nick Leffal (the festival coordinator for BHFF), watched 400 submissions throughout the last spring and summer. When I asked her how were films selected she said, “I think a lot of the film entries were responding to the times. We’re relying on the filmmakers to sort of guide us. There are usually central themes that we see.”
She says that Black cinema is more than entertainment: “This is the way we document our stories and bear witness to one another.”
“There’s something about the power of Cinema that’s transformative where you are forced to bear witness to people you might just walk past on the street.”
Jada-Amina is not only looking forward to Black people coming to the festival. But a wide range of audiences. “Hopefully we continue to see people of all races, all backgrounds, all creeds. Because we understand that there’s something about the power of Cinema that’s transformative where you are forced to bear witness to people you might just walk past on the street.”
Black Harvest was initially a month-long festival. Now, it has been shaved down to two weeks this year. And, for the first time in the festival’s history, both theaters at the Film Center will run Black Harvest films.
“You have to keep things potent.”
Jada-Amina wants to give more people the chance to witness the festival. She also thinks it would have more of an impact. “You have to keep things potent. Those two weeks will allow people to travel here and stay for a longer, more substantial part of the festival. If you stay a week, you’ve seen at least half of the festival. “
She also thinks it’s beneficial for the community to join hands with each other and make it as easy as possible for everyone to be in the same place at the same time.
“We are trying to shape this into an experience, a portal.”
“We are trying to shape this into an experience, a portal. When you enter this space you are bound to witness a Black story. You are bound to sit next to a Black person in the theater.”
Jada-Amina wants people to take something away from Black Harvest and tell others to visit the festival as well.
She says that she is appreciative that filmmakers have continued to enter their films into the festival for consideration. And, to give these filmmakers a platform is important.
Jada-Amina is also a filmmaker and has created a short film about former slave and American Abolitionist, Sojourner Truth. The short, titled I’m Not Going to Die, I’m Going Home Like a Shooting Star (2020), is a quote from Sojourner Truth. The documentary short was viewed at the Sojourner Truth Festival of the Arts: Interior Lives in 2020 at the Gene Siskel Film Center.
The Gene Siskel Film Center thanks this year’s sponsors for the BHFF: Gilead Sciences Inc., BMO Harris, ComEd, The Richard and Ellen Sandor Family Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Illinois Arts Council, NBC 5 Chicago, WTTW Chicago, The Godfrey, StayPineapple, and theWit. Media partners: WBEZ Chicago, The Chicago Reader, and The Bulletin.
© Stephanie A. Taylor (10/26/23) — Special for FF2 Media ®
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Find more information on the festival, including purchasing tickets/passes here.
Donate to the Sergio Mims Fund for Black Excellence in Filmmaking.
For more information on Jada-Amina, visit her website.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured Photo: Jada-Amina Harvey at a Black Harvest Film Festival talk, by Justine Bursoni. Photo courtesy of the Black Harvest Film Festival.
Middle Photo: Photo of Jada-Amina Harvey, Black Harvest Film Festival Curator, by R. Treshawn Williamson, 2023. Photo courtesy of the Black Harvest Film Festival.
Bottom Photo: Jada-Amina Harvey (right) pictured with Jennifer Holness (left), the 2022 Richard and Ellen Sandor Black Harvest Film Festival Feature Winner, by Justine Bursoni. Photo courtesy of the Black Harvest Film Festival.