For many ethnic and upcoming filmmakers the name Charles Burnett garners respect and admiration. He’s one of the most talented independent writer/directors in America. And on Monday, January 21 millions more will be familiar with his name and his body of work thanks to Turner Classic Movies (TCM).
On Martin Luther King Jr. Day (Jan. 21) TCM will celebrate with a festival of films by Charles Burnett. This soft spoken, unassuming man is a powerhouse, who has diligently gone about the business of his work with passion, vision and honesty. He draws us into African American life like we’ve never seen before; from using old Southern folklore that dates back to slavery to modern day stresses that can dictate negative or positive influences and reactions.
As an independent filmmaker Burnett faces what many independents face, the fact that most of these films have a very short life in the limelight, which includes film festivals, etc. and they can go virtually unknown unless they get a theatrical release. And that’s what happened in Burnett’s case.
In 2007 after a 7 year wait Burnett’s 1977 award winning drama “Killer of Sheep” was released in theaters. This brought new attention to the filmmaker who grew up in Watts and studied at UCLA. When first completed in 1977, “Killer of Sheep” won the FIPRESCI Prize at the Berlin International Festival’s Forum of New Cinema, and garnered a number of prestigious awards and recognition. However, the soundtrack was so powerful and intricate to the film that it became a seven-year effort to clear music rights to the soundtrack. Upon its release in 2007 critics were wowed by the timeless film.
In the meantime Burnett directed other films such as Hallmark’s1996 “Nightjohn” about a 12 year old slave girl who learns to read and write, Harpo Films 1998 TV movie “The Wedding” that starred Halle Berry in a drama surrounding her upcoming interracial marriage and her surprising love for a black man with children, Disney’s 1999 TV movie, “Selma, Lord Selma” tells the story of a young girl touched by the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and sets out to do something about her new found understanding and Showtime’s “Finding Buck McHenry” this 2000 film is about an 11 year old boy and his love of baseball which leads him to a legendary ex-member of the famed Negro Baseball League. It is clear Burnett’s films chronicle our Black history from a variety of standpoints.
TCM host Robert Osborne and Burnett will discuss each film before and after airing. It will be a treat for viewers to get into the mind of such an incredible filmmaker.
The primetime (8 p.m.) marathon kicks off with the 1977 film “Killer of Sheep” called a masterpiece of African American filmmaking, this film surrounds a man struggling to provide for his family and getting by with some dignity. Pay close attention to the legendary blues-infused soundtrack. Next “The Horse” (1973) a young black boy and a group of white men stand vigil over a horse, said to be extremely touching. It’s followed by the 1983 film “My Brother’s Wedding” the story of a young man living in Watts whose best friend is just released from jail and his brother is preoccupied with wedding plans and his snooty, upper middle class fiancé. This combination of characters no doubt leads to drama, and lots of humor. It’s followed by “When it Rains” this 1995 jazz-inspired film focuses on a man who spends New Years Day scrapping enough money together to keep a mother and her daughter from losing their apartment. And the marathon wraps up with the 1969 film “Several Friends” four unemployed friends in South Central Los Angeles as they deal with family life and broken dreams. There will be an encore presentation of these films immediately following “Several Friends.”
Please check your local listings for times and a complete schedule. TCM will also present eight classic films on race and race relations which includes such films as “Paris Blues” (1961) starring Sidney Poitier and Diahann Carroll, and “A Raisin in the Sun” (1961) starring Sidney Poitier, and Ruby Dee.