One recent visitor to Santa Barbara was filmmaker Billy Woodberry, who was here to screen his great movie BLESS THEIR LITTLE HEARTS and to participate in panel discussions on the cinema arts. This event was sponsored by UCSB's Black Studies department along with the Center for Black Studies, the Film and Media Studies department and others.
Woodberry was part of that remarkable group of young, African American directors who streamed through UCLA's film school from the late 60s through the early 80s, often known as the Los Angeles School or simply as the L.A. Rebellion. The group included Charles Burnett (TO SLEEP WITH ANGER, KILLER OF SHEEP), Larry Clark (PASSING THROUGH), Julie Dash (DAUGHTERS OF THE DUST) and Haile Gerima (SANKOFA), with whom I had the pleasure of appearing at the Black Archipelagoes Symposium at Georgetown a couple years back.
Woodberry's BLESS THEIR LITTLE HEARTS is characteristic of the movement -- a low budget (in parts a guerilla) production marked by deeply felt acting, shots influenced by neo-realism and portraits of everyday black life in America entirely unlike what Hollywood was giving us at the time -- for that matter, totally unlike the preponderance of portrayals of black life in American media today.
It was a summery gathering, a mix of students earning credit and non-students enriching a few well-earned vacation hours. I took special note of the reactions of the young students to Woodberry's film. None of them was old enough to have known previously of the L.A. group, and clearly none of them had seen films like this about black American life before -- In the era of HUSTLE AND FLOW and CRASH, these films appeared before the students like . . . well, like what they are -- quiet works of art that tell us something about ourselves and leave us with images that will never go away -- BLESS THEIR LITTLE HEARTS was made from a script initially written by Burnett, and so the film is also a testament to the collaborative life of art that these directors created among themselves as UCLA's first black graudate students in film. One of the first black students at UCLA's film school was Teshome Gabriel, from Ethiopia, who went on to teach at UCLA as he worked through his crucial theories of Third Cinema. Teshome, by the way, phoned me out of the blue after reading my first book, establishing a friendship that continues to this day.
As it happens, Burnett's KILLER OF SHEEP is being readied at long last for video release. One can only hope that this will bring wider attention to the worthy work of these film artists.