Film Series: Black Film Artists with Nova Scotian Roots

4 February – 4 March, 2014


Two film artists with African heritage—and a connection to Nova Scotia—will have their works shown at the Dalhousie Art Gallery for African Heritage Month. The first, the late actor Godfrey Cambridge, is featured in two landmark Hollywood Studio Films from 1970: Melvin Van Peebles’ The Watermelon Man and Ossie Davis’ Cotton Comes To Harlem, both, of course, directed by pioneer Black Directors. Cambridge, born in New York City, was sent to live with his grandparents in Sydney, Nova Scotia until he was 13.

The second is Sylvia D. Hamilton, whose four documentaries, Black Mother, Black Daughter, Speak It! From the Heart of Black Nova Scotia, Portia White: Think on Me, and The Little Black School House, reveal a vital non-fiction filmmaker—with a raft of international prizes and acclaim to her credit—capturing African Nova Scotian and Canadian issues in a frank and illuminating manner.

A special Film Tribute to the late Dr. Burnley “Rocky” Jones will close the series on March 4.

4 February - The Watermelon Man
Melvin Van Peebles, USA, 1970, 100 minutes. Godfrey Cambridge delivers an explosive performance in this corrosive comedy about a white suburban bigot who turns black overnight, directed by the legendary maverick Melvin Van Peebles for Columbia Pictures.

11 February - Cotton Comes To Harlem
Ossie Davis, USA, 1970, 97 minutes. Adapted from Chester Himes’ African-American detective novel, Cotton Comes To Harlem stars Godfrey Cambridge as “Grave Digger” Jones, a caustic NYC police officer on the trail of phony Black Nationalists and a wave of drugs about to land on the US Atlantic Coast.

18 February - Black Mother, Black Daughter
Sylvia D. Hamilton, Claire Prieto, National Film Board of Canada, 1989, 29 minutes. This cinematic portrait explores the contributions of African Nova Scotian women to the home, the Church and the community, and is anchored by music by the classic vocal quartet Four the Moment.

Portia White: Think on Me
Sylvia D. Hamilton, Maroon Films Inc., Canada, 2000, 50 minutes. Known as “Canada’s Marian Anderson”, internationally acclaimed Nova Scotia-born vocalist and teacher Portia White rose to global fame in the 1940s. Hamilton traces her story through archival footage and interviews with family members, colleagues and students who after many years remain inspired by her.

25 February - Speak It! From the Heart of Black Nova Scotia
Sylvia D. Hamilton, National Film Board of Canada, 1992, 29 minutes. An award-winning examination of growing up young and Black in Nova Scotia in the 1990s, Speak It! looks at a group of high school students as they, with help from mentors, work to build self esteem and discover the richness of their heritage.

The Little Black School House
Sylvia D. Hamilton, Maroon Films Inc., Canada, 2007, 60 minutes. Through archival film footage, rare photographs and touching first hand accounts from past students, Hamilton’s film explores the history of segregated schooling in Ontario and Nova Scotia.

4 March - A Film Tribute to Dr. Burnley “Rocky” Jones

Against The Tides: The Jones Family
Sylvia D. Hamilton, Almeta Speakes Productions, Canada, 1994, 58 minutes. Hamilton takes us on a thought provoking journey into African Nova Scotian history and activism as seen through the eyes of Burnley “Rocky” Jones and members of his remarkable family. Part of the “Hymn To Freedom” series.

Encounter At Kwacha House
Rex Tasker, National Film Board of Canada, 1967, 17 minutes. This black-and-white cinema verité blast from the “Challenge For Change” series from the mid-’60s features a young Rocky Jones and actor Walter Borden in a lively discussion about racism, justice and activism.