Kinshasa Symphony

Presented by the Gene Siskel Film Center, the Black Harvest festival showcases films and videos by black artists from around the world, with screenings continuing through Thursday, September 2. Following are reviews of selected films screening from Friday, August 13, through Thursday, August 19; for more information and a complete schedule see

Everyday Black Man After being denied a bank loan, a middle-aged grocer and lapsed Christian (Henry Brown) overcomes his misgivings and accepts a new business partner, a young black Muslim (Omari Hardwick) whose confidence and drive make a strong impression. With that premise—and the natural performances of the actors—this contemporary drama set in Oakland is off to a good start, suggesting a number of provocative themes, including how communities grapple with change as older generations recede. But then director-writer Carmen Madden switches gears into urban-thriller territory with a retread of familiar drug war stories, and the film devolves into a lockstep exercise of transforming the hero from a low-key nice guy into vigilante. With Tessa Thompson. 108 min. —Andrea Gronvall  Mon 8/16, 8:15 PM, and Wed 8/18, 6 PM

Kinshasa Symphony In this 2009 documentary, African musicians are rehearsing the last movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony for an upcoming outdoor concert in Kinshasa, capital of Zaire. Some, having lost instruments in past fighting, are seen carving new ones out of wood. Torn violin strings have been replaced with bicycle brake cables; a bus wheel rim serves as a bell in D. Many Zaireans, not having heard Western classical music, have been “astonished” at past concerts. This is a great story worth seeing, despite being poorly told in rambling, indifferent, visually disorganized direction by Claus Wischmann and Martin Baer. In French and Lingala with subtitles. 95 min. —Fred Camper  Sun 8/15, 5:15 PM, and Mon 8/16, 6:15 PM

Sharkula: Diarrhea of a Madman Chicago-based rapper Brian Wharton—aka Sharkula, Thigahmahjigee, Thig, and other assorted pseudonyms—is also a graffiti artist, break dancer, and consummate street hustler; his friend Joshua Conro has fashioned a documentary that eschews any pretense of objectivity, and instead celebrates his irrepressible spirit and boundless energy. Conro interviews a number of local and national hip-hop artists and DJs, most of whom revere Wharton for his spontaneous, unscripted rapping style and marathon performances as well as his staunch refusal to promote himself on the Internet. Some of the best parts of Conro’s video show Wharton’s colorful interactions with various people as he hawks his homemade tapes and CDs on the street, which for years has been his primary source of income. 98 min. —Joshua Katzman  Fri 8/13, 8:15 PM