It may take years or even decades, but the cream does eventually rise to the top. Bill Gunn made some of the most interesting films of the 1970s but has gone largely unrecognized. All that is about to change, as the Brooklyn Academy of Music salutes this great film pioneer with a film retrospective. “The Groundbreaking Bill Gunn” will run from April 1-4 and will feature five of Gunn’s most powerful films, including the rarely screened cult classic vampire movie, “Ganja & Hess.”
“Bill Gunn’s films don’t look like Hollywood, and in that sense, he was a true independent,” film historian and personal friend Pearl Bowser told the Amsterdam News in an interview. “He was always stretching his limits,” she added.
A fiercely independent artist, Gunn worked largely outside the Hollywood studio system, creating the films he thought were important. During an era where Blaxploitation was king, Gunn made films that were sensitive and nuanced while others where strip-mining Black culture.
“Bill Gunn sought to avoid the cliches that corporate Hollywood sought to place on African-Americans,” said writer Ishmael Reed. “At a time when Black studies was emerging, he made an important connection between the African-American church and African religion.”
The best way to describe Bill Gunn was as an artist. He wore too many hats–actor, director, novelist, screenwriter, producer–to neatly fit him into one category. He made some of the most intelligent films about life in America, and African American life, in the 1970’s and this festival is a great opportunity to learn more about this visionary.
“The Groundbreaking Bill Gunn,” presented by BAMcinematek, will be screened on the following dates:
Thursday, April 1
7 p.m.: “Personal Problems”
Friday, April 2
6:50, 9:15: “Ganja & Hess,” introduced by Pearl Bowser
Saturday, April 3
2 p.m., 4:30, 6:50, 9:15: “The Landlord”
Sunday, April 4
2 p.m.: “Stop” (free screening on VHS)
4:30, 6:50, 9:15: “The Angel Levine”
BAM is located at 30 Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn. For more information, please visit www.BAM.org or call 718.636.4100, ext. 1.