From Minneapolis to Mali

"To Be a Black Man"
"Checkmate"

This pair of short films by critic and author Nelson George (Blackface) renders his laid-back prose in cinematic terms, along with his ongoing passion for exploring the black body politic. "To Be a Black Man" is a five-minute music video/documentary collage of African-American New Yorkers going about their business or posing for the camera, while the jazzy soundtrack lends a beat to Samuel L. Jackson's Gil Scott Heron-style rap, culled from George's Buppies, B-Boys, Baps & Bohos (e.g., "To be a black man is to enter an elevator and have a white woman shift her bags away from you. It's to see the white man next to her pushing out his chest and trying to stare you down."). Comparatively feeble, the 15-minute "Checkmate" uses chess as a contrived metaphor for the competition between two black men who sit discussing the woman they both "did"--suggesting that the fledgling filmmaker may be more adept at visual poetry than narrative storytelling. Still, after producing such studio-scale features as Strictly Business and CB4, George continues to prove the critic's capacity for artmaking, as, taken together, these two indie shorts represent another impressive display of range. (Nelson) Oak Street Cinema, Wednesday, September 23 at 8:30 p.m.

Joe's Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads
Like Mo' Better Blues and He Got Game, Spike Lee's fully realized, hour-long thesis project at NYU (1983) is principally about the pressures of black male entrepreneurship at odds with personal relationships, representing larger political realities. It's also, like the bulk of Lee's joints, a film that's extremely funny, intensely serious, and pointedly ambiguous all at once, as it plays three sets of surrogate father-son relations for a complicated mix of laughs and pathos. In the first of these, a murderous street boss and self-described "brother who loves his people" (Tommie Hicks) coerces Brooklyn barber Zach (Monty Ross) to run numbers out of his shop; in the second, Zach mentors a delinquent teen nicknamed Teapot (Stuart Smith), hiring him to sweep the sidewalk and, later, to sell numbers; and in the third, this teenager instructs a younger boy how to say "I'll fuck you up!" with authority. As the crime boss likens the numbers racket to a poor man's stock market, Lee measures its benefits with ample irony: The numbers have financed a degree in social services for Zach's disapproving wife (Donna Bailey), but they've also landed his former partner in the Hudson River. In less life-threatening terms, it's no stretch to locate the young filmmaker in his protagonist: a man weighing his options to continue as a modest independent or to set up shop with the bossman's blood money, toward a higher purpose. (Nelson) Oak Street Cinema, Thursday, September 24 at 7 p.m.

The Keeper
The Keeper

The Twin Cities International Black Film Festival starts Friday at the Parkway Theatre and continues at various locations through September 28. For more information, including ticket prices at each venue, call 825-1486.

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