Tuesday, March 28, 2017 at 7:30pm
Helen Levitt's In the Street, Lionel Ngakane's Jemima + Johnny, and Djibril Diop Mambéty's The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun
155 Freeman Street, Brooklyn
Presented by Ashley Clark
In the Street, Helen Levitt, 1948, 16mm, 16 mins
Jemima + Johnny, Lionel Ngakane, 1965, 16mm, 30 mins
The Little Girl Who Sold the Sun, Djibril Diop Mambéty, 1999, digital projection, 45 mins
"People write books for children and other people write about the books written for children but I don’t think it’s for the children at all. I think that all the people who worry so much about the children are really worrying about themselves, about keeping their world together and getting the children to help them do it, getting the children to agree that it is indeed a world. Each new generation of children has to be told: 'This is a world, this is what one does, one lives like this.' Maybe our constant fear is that a generation of children will come along and say: 'This is not a world, this is nothing, there’s no way to live at all.'” - Russell Hoban, Turtle Diary
In The Street (first released in 1948, then once more in 1952) is a silent, black and white documentary shot in the mid-1940s in Spanish Harlem by artist Janice Loeb, critic James Agee, and photographer Helen Levitt. The trio, all acting as cinematographers, filmed using lightweight, hidden 16mm cameras, intimately capturing life on the avenues, with the footage skilfully edited by Levitt into a mesmerizing patchwork of children’s expressive faces and bodies at play, contrasted occasionally with those of their wearier elders. Manny Farber dubbed this proto-vérité “a somber study of the American figure, from childhood to old age, growing stiffer, uglier, and lonelier with the passage of years," but In The Street—thrumming with movement, humor, and energy—is closer to what Margaret Loke described, in Levitt's 2009 New York Times obituary, as "a cinematic and delightfully guileless form of street choreography."
A similar tone of antic, monochrome-hued momentum propels the shimmering drama Jemima + Johnny, which was directed by South African Lionel Ngakane, an actor and former ANC member who’d been exiled to Britain from his homeland. Set in West London’s Notting Hill district a few years after race riots had torn the area apart, it follows the adventures of the eponymous Johnny, the young son of a racist, right-wing father who is depicted demonstrating against immigration, and Jemima, the same-age daughter of a recently arrived West Indian family. An adorable pair of live-wires, the two immediately strike up a friendship which symbolically flies in the face of bigotry and de facto segregation. This immersive film, shot with a hand-held realist style in homage to the Free Cinema movement of the 1950s, is startling for both its simplicity and direct emotional power. Its clear-eyed hope for a colorblind society is touching, yet becomes almost unbearably poignant in light of the virulent contemporary resurgence of reactionary politics in the West.
Directed by the Senegalese master Djibril Diop Mambéty (Touki Bouki, Hyenas), The Little Girl Who Sold The Sun echoes Jemima + Johnny’s use of childhood as a prism through which to view wider social issues—ingrained sexism and rampant capitalism are here subtly challenged. Set in bustling Dakar, the film focuses on the travails of a young disabled girl, Sisi (Lissa Balera), who is hell-bent on becoming a street vendor of Le Soleil, the national newspaper of Senegal. In a brutally competitive climate, she must fight against the wishes of older, bullying street boys to achieve her aim. Sadly, this was the final film directed by Mambéty, who passed away from lung cancer in Paris in 1998 at the age of 53. Following Le Franc (1994), it was intended as the the second film in a trilogy named “Tales of Little People." The series was never completed, but Mambéty’s tough yet hopeful swansong remains a fitting encapsulation of its maker’s restless invention, empathy, and insight into Senegalese mores.
Ashley Clark is a film programmer, critic, and broadcast journalist from London. He has programmed at venues including BFI Southbank in London, and MoMA, BAMcinématek, and Light Industry in New York. He is a regular contributor to publications like Film Comment, The Guardian, Sight & Sound, and Vice, and his first book is Facing Blackness: Minstrelsy and Media in Spike Lee’s Bamboozled (The Critical Press, 2015).
Tickets - $8, available at door.
Please note: seating is limited. First-come, first-served. Box office opens at 7pm.