five Black people dressed to the nines in a grainy screen grab
Boomerang (1992). Courtesy Gene Siskel Film Center

The 28th Black Harvest Film Festival, hosted at the Gene Siskel Film Center, invites Chicago to experience a rich selection of films devoted to amplifying Black storytelling and promoting the careers of young filmmakers. But this year, the monthlong celebration differs from the previous 27, following the death of beloved cofounder Sergio Mims, who passed away in October at 67. The 2022 festival will serve as a tribute to Mims’s cinematic legacy, featuring an impressive lineup that includes 19 feature films, four short film programs, and more than 15 filmmaker and cast appearances. 

“The Black Harvest Film Festival has always been a reunion of filmmakers and film lovers,” says Jean de St. Aubin, executive director at the Gene Siskel Film Center. “This year, with the passing of Sergio Mims, it will be bittersweet. But we rejoice in what Sergio has created—a monthlong celebration of Black storytelling that has thrived for 28 years and counting. I look forward to seeing our loyal [Black Harvest] audience, welcoming new friends, and sharing Sergio’s stories along with those on the screen.”

Black Harvest opened on November 4 with a ceremony dedicated to Mims’s memory—one defined by his multifaceted passion for film as an educator, a critic, a curator, and a film lover. During the reception, the festival awarded the Black Harvest Film Festival Legacy Award to Chicago casting director Sharon King and announced the Richard and Ellen Sandor Family Black Harvest Film Festival Prize winners. 

“Opening Night celebration feels like a reunion each year, and is an exciting and joyful kickoff to the entire festival—complete with award presentations, short film screenings, and a reception,” de St. Aubin says. “It is my favorite day of the year at the Gene Siskel Film Center.”

Before the Black Harvest Film Festival launched 28 years ago, the Film Center hosted the Blacklight Film Festival with Floyd Webb; however, mounting economic and personal reasons led to its untimely end. This left Chicago without a film festival dedicated to screening international Black filmmaking, until Barbara Scharres, the former director of programming at the Film Center, called Mims to help create the Black Harvest festival. 

The inaugural Black Harvest festival started as a ten-day event with 22 screenings, and now, the festival hosts 41 screenings and a massive itinerary of events. And Mims’s legacy lives on in the festival, which he helped curate during the last month of his life. The selection represents the robust filmmaking occurring worldwide, highlighting underrepresented stories and giving Chicago a glimpse of what Mims called “lots of Black joy.”

“Sergio’s great enthusiasm and his overwhelming, populist embrace of Black film in all its manifestations are the things that I believe will endure in the spirit of the festival,” Scharres says, sharing Mims’s role in Chicago film. “Black Harvest continues to be a festival that makes wide-ranging selections, and is exceptionally open to considering the work of first-time filmmakers and those in the early stages of their careers.”

Mims’s legacy is defined by his willingness to support emerging filmmakers, and the Black Harvest Film Festival is imbued with this mission. Since its inception, the festival has emphasized the importance of supporting filmmakers of color, especially in the early stages of their careers. The festival provides a platform for filmmakers to engage with their audiences and vice versa. 

“We were seeing careers grow and flourish before our eyes,” Scharres says. “For young filmmakers, Black Harvest often functioned as their very first opportunity to present their work before a live audience and receive feedback. My hope for the future is that Black Harvest will continue to be the very alive and interactive forum for Black film that it has always aimed to be.” 

Black Harvest Film Festival
In-person through 11/20, virtual through 11/27
Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State
Festival passes $60, Film Center members $30; single tickets $12, Film Center members $6

Black Harvest’s selections range from deeply inspiring documentaries to thrilling horror movies, providing any interested film lovers with their genre of choice. The feature films include the psychological horror Nanny (November 15), following a Senegalese immigrant hired by an affluent New York couple; the coming-of-age film Jasmine Is a Star (November 19), telling the story of a 16-year-old girl with albinism; and the heart-wrenching Mars One (November 11 and 12), exploring the bonds of family and love when faced with challenging changes. 

On November 12 and 20, the festival will screen Rewind & Play, a fascinating documentary centered around the famed jazz pianist Thelonious Monk. The film illuminates the casual racism and jarring disrespect the beloved musician experienced on French TV in 1969, alongside his performance at the Salle Pleyel concert hall. 

Accompanying the new feature films, Black Harvest will also host several restoration and anniversary screenings. The revived films include Malcolm X (November 19), screened on 35mm, and the 50th anniversary 4K restoration of Sidney Poitier’s directorial debut Buck and the Preacher (November 9)—a reimagined classic Western. The festival will also revisit the comedy Cooley High on November 16 in memory of Mims, following a tribute to the late cofounder. 

The festival also screens four original shorts programs including Sisters in Scene (November 17), presenting six stories of Black femininity, self-expression, and survival; Cine Lado a Lado (November 10 and 15), featuring complex stories about multifaceted African identities; From the Block (November 11 and 13), promoting Chicago-based filmmakers; and Figures & Guardians (November 12), showcasing emotional stories about guardians, mothers, fathers, and the people who raised us.

Closing out the impressive selection of in-person screenings, the Black Harvest Film Festival will host its annual 90s costume night with a screening of Boomerang on November 20. The essential 90s romantic comedy starring Eddie Murphy and Halle Berry was handpicked by Mims. Following the in-person screenings, the festival will host virtual screenings from November 21 to 27. 

“The 28th festival is a tribute to Sergio’s dogged determination to suggest the best for our screens, to ensure emerging filmmakers were in the same spotlight as the established auteurs, and his efforts to make local filmmakers feel like stars and our audience to feel like a family,” says Rebecca Fons, the Gene Siskel Film Center’s director of programming. “We will miss him immensely—his bold opinions, his wit, his knowledge, and his camaraderie—and dedicate each moment of Black Harvest to his memory.”