Sojourner Truth Festival of the Arts 2023


Sojourner Truth Festival for the Arts | Symposium

March 2-5, 2023 / Logan Center for the Arts at The University of Chicago / 915 E 60th St, Chicago [map]

A symposium on Black women’s filmmaking inspired by the 1976 Sojourner Truth Festival of the Arts, featuring roundtable conversations with some of the original festival participants and contemporary filmmakers, artists, and scholars. This event is free and will also be livestreamed.


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Symposium Schedule
PDF Version


THURSDAY, MARCH 2 • 7pm Screening: Interior Lives • Screening Room
This final program in the 9-week screening series “Creating a Different Image: Black Women’s Filmmaking of the 1970s-90s,” foregrounds Black female interiority. S. Pearl Sharp’s Back Inside Herself (1984) is a visual poem on identity and the assertion of a sense of self, starring the magnetic Barbara O. Jones. In Zeinabu irene Davis’s Cycles (1989), a young woman performs African-based purification rituals as she awaits her period. Visually experimental, especially in its use of stop-motion sequences, the film also features music from throughout the African diaspora, resulting in a unique film language that honors African American women. Melvonna Ballenger’s Rain (Nyesha) (1978), set to a soulful John Coltrane soundtrack, traces the political awakening of one woman. Fronza Woods’ first short film Killing Time (1979), in which she also stars, is an offbeat, wryly humorous look at the dilemma of a would-be suicide unable to find the right outfit to die in. Aarin Burch’s Dreams of Passion (1989), set in a dance studio, explores desire between two Black women; Spin Cycle (1989) takes an autobiographical look at Burch’s own love affairs and filmmaking aspirations. Yvonne Welbon’s short film Monique (1991) muses on memory. Reflecting on a childhood experience of racism, Welbon considers how racism is deeply ingrained in the fabric of society, pervasive enough to even inflect or infect children’s play. Cauleen Smith’s Chronicles of a Lying Spirit (by Kelly Gabron) (1989) is a collage of voices, images, and scrolling text that acts as a meditation on Black history and its portrayal in media.

  • Pearl Sharp, Back Inside Herself (1984, 4 min)
  • Zeinabu irene Davis, Cycles (1989, 17 min)
  • Fronza Woods, Killing Time (1979, 9 min)
  • Aarin Burch, Spin Cycle (1991, 5 min) & Dreams of Passion (1989, 5 min)
  • Cauleen Smith, Chronicles of a Lying Spirit (by Kelly Gabron) (1989, 6 min)
  • Yvonne Welbon, Monique (1991, 3 min)
  • Melvonna Ballenger, Rain (Nyesha) (1978, 15 min). 

Post-screening Q&A with Aarin Burch, Zeinabu irene Davis, Monica Freeman, S. Pearl Sharp, Cauleen Smith, Fronza Woods, and Yvonne Welbon (moderator).


FRIDAY, MARCH 3 • Screenings & Conversations • Screening Room
11amWelcome by Organizers & Keynote
Keynote by Michele Wallace. Keynote Respondent: Shola Lynch.

1:30pmRoundtable Conversation: Legacies of the Sojourner Truth Festival of the Arts, 1976
Roundtable Participants: Jennie Bourne, Louise Fleming, Monica Freeman, Carol Munday Lawrence, Jennifer Lawson, and Ina Archer (moderator).

3:15pmRoundtable Conversation: The 1970s Black Arts Scene
Roundtable Participants: Thulani Davis, Cheryl Fabio, Cheryl Hill, Yaoundé Olu, Seret Scott, Fronza Woods, and Josslyn Luckett (moderator).

5pmI Am Somebody (Madeline Anderson, 1970, 30 min.)
Introduction by Portia Cobb

I Am Somebody chronicles the efforts of Black women hospital workers in Charleston, South Carolina to gain union recognition and a wage increase, up against the oppressive forces of state government and the National Guard. A key document in the struggle for labor rights, I Am Somebody is one of the earliest films to demonstrate the connection between Black women’s labor struggles and the fight for civil rights. The film was named to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2019.

5:30pmSpecial Tribute to Madeline Anderson
Presented by Ava DuVernay and Monica Freeman.

7:30pm Alma’s Rainbow (Ayoka Chenzira, 1993, 85 min.)
Introduction and post-screening Q&A with Ayoka Chenzira, moderated by Samantha N. Sheppard.

A coming-of-age comedy-drama about three African American women living in Brooklyn, Alma’s Rainbow explores the life of teenager Rainbow Gold (Victoria Gabrielle Platt) as she enters womanhood and navigates standards of beauty, self-image, and the rights women have over their bodies. Rainbow attends a strict parochial school, studies dance, and lives with her strait-laced mother Alma (Kim Weston-Moran), who runs a hair salon in the parlor of their home and disapproves of her daughter’s newfound interest in boys. When Alma’s free-spirited sister Ruby (Mizan Kirby) returns from Paris after a ten-year absence, the sisters clash over what constitutes the “proper” direction for Rainbow’s life. Alma’s Rainbow highlights a multi-layered Black women’s world where the characters live, love, and wrestle with what it means to exert and exercise their agency.

SATURDAY, MARCH 4 • Readings & Conversations • Performance Hall & Screening Room
9amPerformance Hall | Welcome & Roundtable Conversation: Histories & Futures of Black Women’s Filmmaking
Roundtable Participants: Ayoka Chenzira, Nina Collins, Zeinabu irene Davis, Michelle Parkerson, Chanelle Aponte Pearson, Stefani Saintonge, and Yvonne Welbon (moderator). Sponsored by Black Public Media.

11:15amPerformance Hall | Keynote Conversation: Julie Dash and Barbara McCullough
Introduction: Josslyn Luckett.
This engagement is supported by the Arts Midwest GIG Fund, a program of Arts Midwest that is supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional contributions from the Illinois Arts Council Agency.

1:30pm Performance Hall | Poetry Readings & Roundtable Conversation: Literary & Visual Crossings
Participants: Joanne Braxton, Charlotte Carter, Margo Jefferson, Patricia Spears Jones, Tracie Morris, Evie Shockley, and Emily Hooper Lansana (moderator). Sponsored by the Poetry Foundation.

3:15pmPerformance Hall | Roundtable Conversation: Black Film Feminisms & Memory Work
Participants: Shirikiana Aina, Iman Uqdah Hameen, Gloria J. Gibson, Shola Lynch, Debra Robinson, Kathe Sandler, and Yvonne Shirley (moderator).

5:15pmPerformance Hall | Film Quarterly Roundtable: Scholars Respond: Critical Perspectives on Black Women’s Filmmaking
Participants: Courtney R. Baker, Terri Francis, Racquel Gates, Michael Gillespie, Hayley O’Malley, Miriam Petty, Yasmina Price, Samantha N. Sheppard, and Allyson Nadia Field (moderator).



SUNDAY, MARCH 5 • Workshops & Conversations • Neubauer Collegium, 5701 S. Woodlawn • No tickets needed
9:00am • Neubauer Collegium | Feminist Media Histories Roundtable Discussion on Curation and Programming
Participants: Ina Archer, Cheryl Chisholm, Monica Freeman, Jennifer Lawson, O.Funmilayo Makarah, Yvonne Welbon, and  Hayley O’Malley and Allyson Nadia Field (moderators). Sponsored by Feminist Media Histories.

11:00am • Neubauer Collegium | Workshop: Archival Preservation for Filmmakers
Participants: Rachael Stoeltje, Director, Indiana University Moving Image Archive and the Black Film Center & Archive; Amber Bertin, Archivist, Indiana University Black Film Center & Archive; and CK Ming and Ina Archer, Media Conservation and Digitization Specialists, Smithsonian National Museum of African  American History & Culture. Sponsored by Black Film Center & Archive.

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