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Film Tue Jul 31 2012
The Black Harvest Film Festival can be easily recognized as the Midwest's premiere festival for cinema that reflects the black diaspora; now in its 18th year, the festival, which opens this weekend, continues its mission to pay homage to Chicago-based films, independent filmmakers, actors and directors, as well as showcase projects by artists from around the world. Here, Chicago actor Harold Dennis (Pieces of a Dream) talks about this annual festival and why it is especially important to the city's film industry.
You have strong ties to and are heavily involved with the Black Harvest Film Festival--in what way(s)?
For the last five years, over a couple of nights, I'll come in and take the place of the host, Sergio Mims, whenever he wants a night off; usually, the nights I host are for films that I'm in. When I host, I introduce the filmmakers, have them say a few words about their film and then after the screening, there's a Q & A session.
The festival is very supportive of local filmmakers and actors--and you've had roles in films like One Week and Black Butterfly, both directed and written by Chicago natives--as an actor based here in the city, what does that connection mean to you?
Chicago is a nice place to call home, especially in the film industry. In New York and Los Angeles, people seem to love actors that come from Chicago. I'm very happy to be here and be a working actor in Chicago.
Through a partnership with the Chicago Public Library, films from previous Black Harvest Film Festivals were recently screened at local branches--what impact do you think that will have in the community?
I like to call the Harold Washington Library Center my "other office"; it's a place where I can jump on the internet for a couple of hours and do research on projects and find out a lot of information. I think the Black Harvest Film Festival reaching out to the public libraries is a great thing because there are people in the community that utilize the library daily, so for them to get a taste of the festival and what it offers as far as films that come from people from the inner city, with that Chicago connection, and giving them a chance to see what people around them are doing, is great.
Do you relate to this somehow?
I never met a real filmmaker or knew about filmmaking or acting here in Chicago growing up; I was ignorant to the fact that so much filming was being done. I had no idea until I saw my high school band teacher and mentor, John Watson, Sr., in The Fugitive and then as "Uncle Pete" in Soul Food. When I saw him in those films, I said, "This is somebody I actually know, for real, and he's making movies--it's not impossible--I can do it." And I went for it and I've been going for it ever since.
You have a part in Englewood (The Growing Pains In Chicago), one of the many Chicago-centric films showcased in the festival--tell us about this project.
The guy [William Cochran] that wrote it lived in Englewood for a couple of years and he's lived in other neighborhoods, too. The film centers on three young guys living in Englewood, dealing with growing pains in Chicago. When you see it, you'll really feel for all three characters and their stories.
As a regular participant in the festival, is there something different you'd like to see or something you wish there was more of?
I can't really answer that because the Black Harvest Film Festival really has touched every [movie] genre. Also, it's a wonderful set-up; celebrities come in and host, awards and scholarships are given, and it gets media attention. It's still going strong--it just gets bigger.
What do you want moviegoers to take away from the festival?
I want people to take away inspiration. We have this big picture of Hollywood and New York filmmaking and studios but the Black Harvest Film Festival takes minority independent filmmakers and gives them the opportunity to showcase their work. It inspires people to say, "Wow--look what we can do--we can do anything." I'm excited to be a part of this; the festival is here to inspire people to not only come back the next year but also to advance their thinking and be inspired to do more.
The Black Harvest Film Festival runs August 3-30 at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State St.; for a complete schedule, ticket information and the film line-up, visit the website or call 312-846-2600.