The final New Frontier film* featured in my 2014 Sundance Doc Profiles: THROUGH A LENS DARKLY: BLACK PHOTOGRAPHERS AND THE EMERGENCE OF A PEOPLE, Thomas Allen Harris’ long-in-the-works excavation of black photographic self-representation.
Sundance Program Description:
A rich and lyrical tapestry that is both personal and epic in scope, Thomas Allen Harris’s extraordinary documentary, THROUGH A LENS DARKLY: BLACK PHOTOGRAPHERS AND THE EMERGENCE OF A PEOPLE, is a unique examination of the way black photographers—and their subjects—have used the camera as a tool for social change from the time photography was invented to the present. Using the family album as a rubric, Harris confronts the way images of “blackness” have affected his own family and sense of self-worth as an African American. He also illuminates the ways fellow photographers such as Deborah Willis, Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simpson, Anthony Barboza, Hank Willis Thomas, Lyle Ashton Harris, and Glenn Ligon have challenged popular culture’s definition of “blackness” and “black people.” THROUGH A LENS DARKLY is a powerful and elegant engagement with the burden of representation and serves as a testament to the redemptive powers of creativity.
This documentary is part of a larger transmedia project that includes the website/traveling roadshow DIGITAL DIASPORA FAMILY REUNION, which invites audiences to share and upload their own family photographs and participate in the creation of a national family archive that can form communities.
This film marks Harris’ return to Sundance, following his documentary THAT’S MY FACE/E MINHA CARA (2002). That film, like his other two features, debuted at Toronto, and won awards at several festivals. He received support for this latest project from the Sundance Institute Documentary Film Program. Joining him as producers are Deborah Willis, who served as executive producer on past Sundance project QUESTION BRIDGE: BLACK MALES (2012); Ann Bennett, coordinating producer for Sundance alum CITIZEN KING (2004); and Don Perry, co-writer and co-producer of THAT’S MY FACE. Cinematographer Martina Radwan counts among her credits past Sundance films HOT COFFEE (2011), WILLIAM KUNSTLER: DISTURBING THE UNIVERSE (2009), and FLANNEL PAJAMAS (2006). Harris has been working on his Digital Diaspora Family Reunion multimedia community engagement project for several years, which includes a touring roadshow and a web portal/archive which encourage the sharing of African American family photos.
Why You Should Watch:
I previously profiled the project during a crowdfunding campaign here. Through his research and collaboration with historians, Harris uncovers a rich, evocative cache of previously unseen photographs and untold photographic history, provocatively reframing popular misconceptions of African American identity and subjectivity for modern audiences.
For more information on the film, visit the project’s Facebook page, while those interested in the Digital Diaspora Family Reunion should check out its website. Should they become available, I’ll link to Harris’ Meet the Artist Sundance video profile and to his Indiewire filmmaker interview. For screening dates and times at Sundance, click the link in the first paragraph.
To experience the festival through the eyes of this year’s filmmakers, follow my Sundance filmmaker class of 2014 Twitter list.
* It should be noted that there are several additional nonfiction or hybrid projects featured in New Frontier’s installations, performances, and transmedia programming, such as THE SOURCE (EVOLVING), CLOUDS, I LOVE YOUR WORK, STREET, and others. More information may be found here.