Toward the end of his recent film The Image Book, director Jean-Luc Godard quotes Bertolt Brecht in saying: “In reality, only a fragment carries the mark of authenticity.” This is a fitting epitaph to a film, and a career, characterized by its radical, collage-like approach to juxtaposing image and sound. It would have been equally appropriate, though for very different reasons, for this quote to appear in Black Mother, a visually astonishing and deeply spiritual love letter to Jamaica made by the acclaimed American filmmaker and photographer Khalik Allah. While The Image Book primarily uses clips from other films to illustrate the misrepresentation of the Arab world in the West, Black Mother uses fragments of footage Allah shot by himself in his mother’s home country of Jamaica, on a variety of film and video formats (Hi8, miniDV, Super 8, 16mm and high-definition digital) over a span of 20 years. Chicagoans will have a chance to see the kaleidoscopic result, which is best experienced on a large screen, when the film receives its local premiere run at the Facets Cinematheque from Friday, May 3 through Thursday, May 9.
Although Allah’s mother does appear in the film, the title is a reference to the notion of Jamaica as an ancestral homeland, a place the director has visited since the age of three and which he puts on screen in a captivating fashion. Black Mother is cleverly structured into three sections—referred to as “trimesters”—that speak volumes about both the history and present of Jamaica, including its painful legacy of colonialism. The film relentlessly avoids clichéd images of Jamaican culture (reggae, weed and Rastafarianism are barely acknowledged) and eschews the norms of documentary filmmaking. It's a highly personal and visually dense cinematic essay in which sound and image are deliberately out of synch —only one shot in the film’s sublime final chapter, of Allah’s late Jamaican grandfather, features a subject speaking live on camera. An ambitious and dreamlike visual-aural fugue, it represents a clear evolution from Allah’s first feature, Field Niggas, in training a benevolent camera eye on a variety of dispossessed subjects, including sex workers. As in the films of Pedro Costa, Allah gives a voice to the voiceless while solidifying his own unique cinematic language.
For more information about Black Mother’s Chicago run, including ticket info and showtimes, visit Facets Multimedia’s website.