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It has been a big year for the late playwright Lorraine Hansberry, whose large visage looks out from an outside wall at the Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. Director Kenny Leon’s Broadway production of “A Raisin in the Sun,” Hansberry’s most famous drama, won three Tonys on Sunday, including one for best revival of a play. That sold-out production stars Denzel Washington.
That drama, like Hansberry’s life, has been influential culture-wide, from songs such as Nina Simone’s “To Be Young Gifted and Black” to plays by Bruce Norris (the Pulitzer Prize-winning “Clybourne Park”) and Kwame Kwei-Armah (“Beneatha’s Place”).
“Raisin” itself has been a presence on both the big and small screens, starting with Daniel Petrie’s 1961 film.
And yet for all of Hansberry’s fame — she also penned “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window” and “Les Blancs,” in addition to be a civil rights activist — there has not been a substantive documentary focused on the life and contributions of this Chicago native who died in 1965.
But that will soon change.
For the past decade, producers Tracy Heather Strain and Randall MacLowry have crisscrossed the country on fundraising appeals and for interviews for their Lorraine Hansberry documentary project. They have interviewed Harry Belafonte, a friend of Hansberry’s, as well as Sidney Poitier, and Ruby Dee. Both Dee, who died this week, and Poitier starred in Petrie’s 1961 film.
MacLowry and Strain, who are taking minimal pay for their work, have raised a significant amount of the budget necessary to complete the documentary.
But they have taken to Kickstarter to get them closer to the end. There is additional fundraising that they are doing as well.
“This is the first feature documentary about Hansberry, dealing with her life in its entirety and looking at her connection to a wider spectrum of activism, from her work with Paul Robeson to civil rights,” said MacLowry.
He added that researching her life has been a revelatory process, not just about Hansberry or the time in which she lived, but about us, today.
“Her father was involved in a case to desegregate a Chicago neighborhood, which was the subject of ‘Raisin,’” he said. “She struggled with issues dealing with her sexual identity. By the end of her life, she had divorced her husband and was committed to her partner.”
Co-producer Strain said that she was most impressed by Hansberry’s global vision.
“Sure, her major focus was African-Americans, but she had an international perspective,” said Strain. “She really cared about human beings and wanted to end oppression for everyone. She saw herself tied to everyone.”
The producers hope to complete the documentary May 2015, when Hansberry would have turned 85.
Kelly Nathe, producer
Documentary-filmmakers Norah Shapiro and Kelly Nathe have won a Legacy-funded grant from the Minnesota Film & TV Board for a film on the colorful moonshine-making history of Nathe’s home turf, Stearns County. The doc will trace the Prohibition-era activities of Depression-devastated farmers who turned to hustling illegal booze as well as look at the current revival of spirits made from the “Minnesota 13” heirloom corn being used by the Eleven Wells distillery located in the old Hamm’s Brewery in St. Paul. “We just got to taste some fresh-off-the-still hooch there, and it was yummy,” said Nathe. The grant, which will amount to about $40,000 in reimbursements intended to help cover pre-production costs, is very rare and very welcome because “it’s nearly impossible to raise money for a feature documentary before you’ve begun filming,” she told I.W. “It’s also a tremendous stamp of approval that hopefully helps attract other funders.” Filmmaker Michael McIntee also won a grant from Minnesota Film & TV for his work-in-progress on the fight for marriage equality in Minnesota.
Norah Shapiro, producer/director
Barkhad Abdi’s film career is building momentum. The “Captain Phillips” Oscar nominee has added a the military Drones thriller “Eye In the Sky,” joining a cast led by Colin Firth.
Abdi is already booked to portray famous South African marathon runner Willie Mtolo in an upcoming biography, and to test his comedic chops in Judd Apatow's “Trainwreck.” The new film, directed by Oscar winning South African director Gavin Hood (Tsotsi), returns him to a drama about African terrorism. Cue the official synopsis:
“A group of leading terror suspects gather in a secluded safe house in Nairobi, Kenya, to plan a suicide bombing mission. Meanwhile, British, Kenyan and American intelligence units, working together, keep the terrorists under real-time surveillance using cameras mounted on a remotely piloted, heavily armed MQ-9 Reaper Drone: an "Eye in the Sky." But as the British and Americans prepare to assassinate the terror suspects using a Hellfire missile, launched from the unseen drone flying at 20,000 feet, a little Kenyan girl walks into the kill zone, selling bread.”
Firth, who is producing the film, seems likely to play the man with his finger on the launch button, caught in a crisis of conscience. No word on Abdi’s role as of yet.
One of the Walker Art Center’s most popular programs, the Summer Music & Movies series will return just in time to have a little fun with time. The movies selected in this year’s newly announced lineup -- happening Mondays in August in Loring Park -- all have to do with watching the clock in one form or fashion, which is a tie-in with the Walker’s upcoming exhibit “Christian Marclay: The Clock.”
A punk-inspired visual artist who has collaborated with members of Sonic Youth and John Zorn, Marclay himself will be involved with the music on the last night of the series when it moves to the Walker’s Open Field. Local art-punk band the Cloak Ox will kick off the series, and another homegrown talent, Minneapolis rapper Greg Grease, will perform the second week with his new Afro-electronic band ZuluZuluu. Chicago-reared husband/wife Americana duo the Handsome Family is lined up for the third week. Here’s the full schedule:
Mondays, August 4–25, Free
Music begins at 7 pm; movies begin at dusk (approximately 8:45 pm)
Loring Park August 4, 11, 18
Walker’s Open Field August 25
In case of rain, events move to the Walker Cinema.
Music: The Cloak Ox
Movie: "High Noon"
Music: The Handsome Family
Movie: "Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb"
Music + Film: Christian Marclay’s "Graffiti Composition and Screen Play" with Laurent Estoppey, Ikue Mori, and Anthony Coleman
Introduction by Christian Marclay
Walker Open Field
Diablo Cody's next feature arrives next summer with a top star and teriffic director attached. TriStar Productions will release "Ricky and the Flash" June 26, 2015. The comedy drama stars Meryl Streep as a woman who abandoned her family to find fast-lane fortune and fame as a rock star. Decades later she returns,trying to reconnect with her estranged kids, one of whom is navigating a rocky divorce. Jonathan Demme ("Stop Making Sense," "The Silence of the Lambs," "Philadelphia") directs.
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