UChicago Arts presents The Sojourner Truth Festival of the Arts 2023
Screening series and symposium honor the legacy of the first Black women’s film festival
December 20, 2022
CHICAGO—In 1976, an extraordinary group of Black feminist artists and activists in New York co-organized the first ever Black women’s film festival: the Sojourner Truth Festival of the Arts. From January to March 2023, the University of Chicago, Film Studies Center, Logan Center for the Arts, South Side Projections, Sisters in Cinema, and partners across Chicago and beyond will celebrate the legacy of that festival with the Sojourner Truth Festival of the Arts, 2023, a nine-week screening series and symposium devoted to Black women’s filmmaking of the 1970s–1990s.
The Sojourner Truth Festival of the Arts, 1976
An extraordinary group of Black feminist artists and activists—Michele Wallace, Faith Ringgold, Patricia Spears Jones, Margo Jefferson, and Monica Freeman—co-organized the 1976 Sojourner Truth Festival of the Arts. Films by Michelle Parkerson, Ayoka Chenzira, and Madeline Anderson, among others, were screened. None of the films at the festival had received mainstream theatrical release; they were all independently produced and difficult for moviegoers to find. The festival, held at New York’s Women’s Interart Center, powerfully linked Black women’s filmmaking to other artforms: Ntozake Shange and Joanne Braxton gave poetry readings; Faith Ringgold debuted a performance piece; Camille Billops lectured on art history; and an array of artists participated in panel discussions. Situating new film-work by Black women within a broader Black feminist arts ecosystem, the festival was simultaneously a celebration of the emerging world of Black women’s filmmaking as well as a radical call for the kinds of socio-political and institutional changes necessary for a Black women’s film culture to thrive.
The Sojourner Truth Festival of the Arts, 2023
Four decades later, the Sojourner Truth Festival of the Arts, 2023 will commemorate the 1976 festival with a nine-week screening series, held in conjunction with UChicago Department of Cinema and Media Studies Professor Allyson Nadia Field’s winter 2023 course on Black Women’s Filmmaking of the 1970s, and a two-day symposium about the original festival, its legacies, and the tradition of Black feminist filmmaking. The 2023 program is co-organized by Monica Freeman, who curated films at the original festival, as well as Yvonne Welbon (Sisters in Cinema), Hayley O’Malley (University of Iowa), Michael W. Phillips Jr. (South Side Projections and Film Studies Center), and Allyson Nadia Field (UChicago Department of Cinema and Media Studies and Film Studies Center). All events are free and open to the public and will be held at UChicago’s Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts.
Screening Series: January 5–March 2
As part of the Department of Cinema and Media Studies’ “Open Classroom” series, which invites members of the public to participate in UChicago class screenings and discussions, Professor Field’s course “Creating a Different Image: Black Women’s Filmmaking of the 1970s-90s” presents nine programs of groundbreaking films by Black women. Many of the films shown at the 1976 festival are rarely screened, and this series will provide a platform for films that have, for too long, been overlooked. In addition to the original festival films, the series will feature later work made by festival participants such as Camille Billops and Ayoka Chenzira as well as other thematically resonant films made in the 1970-90s by directors such as Alile Sharon Larkin, Kathleen Collins, Julie Dash, Barbara McCullough, S. Pearl Sharp, and Anita W. Addison. For these events, students in the course will write program notes, formally introduce the screenings, and then moderate Q&A afterward, inviting discussion from attendees.
Symposium: March 3–4
At the conclusion of the screening series, the final symposium will provide an opportunity to reflect on the past and future of Black women’s filmmaking. There will be roundtable conversations with some of the original festival participants, including Monica Freeman (the original film curator), Ayoka Chenzira, Jennie Bourne, Carol Munday Lawrence, Elaine Baly, Louise Fleming, Tippy Fortune, Jennifer Lawson, Edie Lynch, Michelle Parkerson, Joanne Braxton, Charlotte Carter, Patricia Spears Jones, and Margo Jefferson. The symposium will feature a keynote by Michele Wallace, a special tribute to Madeline Anderson, and a keynote conversation between Barbara McCullough and Julie Dash. In all, around 40 Black women filmmakers, writers, and curators will convene at the Logan Center from March 3 to 4 to celebrate the Sojourner Truth Festival of the Arts, 2023.
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The Sojourner Truth Festival of the Arts 2023 is free and open to the public. All events will be held on The University of Chicago campus at the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, 915 E 60th St, Chicago, IL 60637. More information about the festival, films, and artists can be found at https://voices.uchicago.edu/sojourner/.
For more information about the original 1976 festival, see Hayley O’Malley, “The 1976 Sojourner Truth Festival of the Arts,” Feminist Media Histories (2022), https://doi.org/10.1525/fmh.2022.8.3.127.
The symposium is presented by the Film Studies Center, Sisters in Cinema, South Side Projections, and the Logan Center for the Arts, and is co-sponsored by the Poetry Foundation, the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture (CSRPC), The Visual Regimes of Enslavement and Their Afterlives research project at the Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society, The Franke Institute for the Humanities, The Field Foundation of Illinois, The University of Chicago College, Karla Scherer Center for the Study of American Culture, Arts Midwest, Indiana University Black Film Center & Archive, Chicago Community Trust, Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality, Film Quarterly, John U. Nef Committee on Social Thought, Nicholson Center for British Studies, Pozen Family Center for Human Rights, Institute on the Formation of Knowledge, Arts + Public Life, Department of History, and Departments within UChicago's Division of the Humanities: Cinema & Media Studies (CMS); Art History; English; Music; Romance Languages & Literatures; Theater & Performance Studies (TAPS); Comparative Literature; and Visual Arts (DoVA).
About UChicago Arts
UChicago Arts encompasses the University’s robust cultural scene where scholars, students, artists, and audiences converge, explore, and create. UChicago Arts maintains an ambitious suite of initiatives and programs to enhance the cultural landscape at The University of Chicago and on Chicago’s South Side, including Arts + Public Life and its signature projects, the Arts Incubator and the Green Line Performing Arts Center, the Arts, Science & Culture Initiative, the Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry, and the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts. Joining academic departments and programs in the Division of the Humanities and the College, as well as professional organizations including Court Theatre, Oriental Institute Museum, Smart Museum of Art, Renaissance Society, and University of Chicago Presents, and more than 60 student arts organizations, UChicago Arts is forging an integrative model for practice, presentation, and scholarship.
About the Film Studies Center
The Film Studies Center serves as the support facility and research center for the Department of Cinema and Media Studies (CMS) at the University of Chicago. It provides an ideal site for students and faculty to explore film and other media and plays a vital role in fostering serious interdisciplinary film scholarship. The Center supports classroom teaching, curricular film screening, and individual research in its dedicated screening room and media classrooms, and through the development of its video library and archival film collection. In addition to providing curricular support, the FSC hosts an array of public events programming: archival film screenings, conferences and symposia, workshops, and programs with visiting artists and film scholars.