Close Up

6 - 8 May 2016: Close-Up on Charles Burnett


"At the University of California in the late sixties and early seventies, at a time when the Black Muslims and Black Panthers were making their presence known on and around campus, a small group of filmmakers decided to make visible what had previously remained unseen in cinema: the experience of growing up black in America. They made films that followed neither the blaxploitation strain, with its pimps in platform shoes defying the white establishment, nor the sterile educational strands aimed at providing sociological explanations of inequality and difference. What emerged instead were cinematic portraits of everyday hardship and resistance, showing slices of life in the throes of precarity and discrimination." – Argos

"A key figure in the "L.A. Rebellion" of the 1970s, that movement of young African-American filmmakers who emerged from the UCLA Film School to create a new form of independent cinema, Charles Burnett (...) has made a career in filmmaking without abandoning the principles that guided his earliest work – a fundamental commitment to render the complex lives of his characters in the most nuanced detail and an unerring respect for the sensibilities of his audiences." – Harvard Film Archive

"I think that, as I was growing up, disillusionment was inevitable. Growing up was nothing but battling dreams, hopes, expectations of what life would be. Responsibilities, also, had a lot to do with it, and the time allotted to us to do things played a part in it. I do not think that disillusionment is a bad thing. I think that you have to be able to get on your feet and make a choice – either you agree with the current trend or you don’t. You see, illusions are one thing and convictions are something else. Sometimes convictions and illusions get confused, sometimes they inform each other. Illusions and dreams may be lost, but convictions remain. I think that my convictions have been intact." – Charles Burnett

Several Friends
Charles Burnett
1969 | 21 min | B/W | Digibeta

In Charles Burnett’s first student film, Several Friends, a group of eccentric and endearing young people converse in a variety of everyday settings. read more

Killer of Sheep
Charles Burnett
1977 | 81 min | B/W | 35mm

"Perhaps the most perceptive and poetic study ever made of Americans existing just above poverty, Burnett’s film revolves around Stan, a slaughterhouse worker struggling to maintain his integrity. Shot in gritty black and white, with a near-documentary technique and a cast of the director’s friends, Killer of Sheep presents an authenticity very rarely encountered in the cinema. In 1990, Burnett’s slice-of-life masterpiece was proclaimed a "national treasure" by the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress." – Harvard Film Archive read more

The Horse
Charles Burnett
1973 | 14 min | Colour | Digital

Charles Burnett employs a sparse lyricism in this haunting coming-of-age tale about an African American boy tending to a horse that is to be put down. read more

My Brother's Wedding
Charles Burnett
1983 | 113 min | Colour | DCP

Laid off from his factory job, Pierce marks time working at his family’s dry cleaning store, swapping loaded jabs with his brother’s upper middle-class fiancé and hanging out with his best friend, recently released from prison. Charles Burnett fleshes out Pierce’s sense of suspension with richly observed detail, the revelation of character bound to the revelation of an African American community, itself at a crossroads. read more

To Sleep with Anger
Charles Burnett
1990 | 98 min | Colour | 35mm

"After the neorealism of Killer of Sheep and the slice-of-life tragicomedy My Brother’s Wedding, To Sleep with Anger finds Charles Burnett fashioning a kind of cinematic magic realism by infusing modern-day melodrama with elements from the trickster narratives of African American folklore and even bits of the horror film. At a time when the Great Migration of the first half of the 20th century, that had seen millions of Blacks move north and west, was starting to reverse direction, Burnett tells a tale of a mysterious figure from "back home" who unsettles a middle-class family in Los Angeles when he suddenly shows up at their door. A complex meditation on the precarious place of the Black bourgeoisie in American society, To Sleep with Anger alternately warms and chills." – David Pendleton read more