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Resistance and revolution

March 18th, 2019

An older and a younger man talk outside
Haile Gerima, Harvest: 3,000 Years (film still), 1976, black and white, sound.

In the 1970s, filmmaker Haile Gerima was part of a revolution. As a leading member of a group of film students in Los Angeles known as the L.A. Rebellion, Gerima – along with Charles Burnett and Julie Dash – resisted mainstream trends in order to tell stories about Black lives from the perspective of Black characters. To celebrate Gerima’s filmmaking legacy, the AGO screens his first feature Harvest: 3,000 Years, on March 22 as part of a city-wide retrospective presented together with The Power Plant, Hot Docs Cinema and TIFF.

Born and raised in Ethiopia, Gerima immigrated to the United States in 1967. He briefly studied acting in Chicago before moving to Los Angeles in 1970 to attend the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). This was a timely move. In the wake of the Watts riots of 1965 and a shoot-out on the UCLA campus in 1969, students persuaded the University to launch an ethnographic studies program – where many of the L.A. Rebellion filmmakers first met. It was here that Gerima made his first films.

Harvest: 3,000 Years was his first feature, set in Africa and shot over a two-week vacation from school. Gerima used nonprofessional Amharic-speaking actors (an official language spoken in Ethiopia) and shot the film entirely on location during the Ethiopian Civil War that led to the overthrow of Haile Selassie. Using documentary techniques, the film follows an Ethiopian peasant family struggling to survive under the brutal and exploitative rule of an out-of-touch leader. Harvest: 3,000 Years is a passionate and personal work. According to Gerima, the film “shows you the actual footprints of my youth, of where I grew up with my father and the rest of my family.” The film, epic in its emotional and political scope, went on to win multiple awards.

Don’t miss Harvest: 3,000 Years in Jackman Hall on March 22. The screening will be introduced by Tessema Mulugeta, President, Bikila Award, who will speak about the film in the context of Gerima’s career.

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