Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBB .
USA/Germany, 1991. American Playhouse, Geechee Girls, WMG Film. Screenplay by Julie Dash. Cinematography by Arthur Jafa. Produced by Julie Dash, Arthur Jafa, Steven Jones. Music by John Barnes. Production Design by Kerry Marshall. Costume Design by Arline Burks Gant. Film Editing by Joseph Burton, Amy Carey. Toronto International Film Festival 1991.
At the turn of the twentieth century on the Sea Islands just off the coasts of Georgia and Southern California, descendants of American slaves live in beautiful, almost tropical land and maintain traditions of their west African ancestry that they have kept alive despite generations of oppression. Two women take a trip back to Ibo Landing on St. Simon’s Island after having left years earlier to live on the mainland, one of them accompanied by a companion and the other joined by a photographer who has come to record this little-known cultural phenomenon and document an upcoming major change in their lives: the Payzeant family, their backbone made of three generations of women, are leaving their present life behind and moving to the mainland, and it has a varying effect on the individuals affected. Some are looking forward to new opportunities and to the chance of be part of the modern world, others are anxious about the possibility of losing a core aspect of their identity, and some just see trouble ahead. Julie Dash doesn’t direct this gorgeous work of art in a straight line, its narrative plays out in an emotional logic that sees us moving from figure to figure and gleaning the details of relationship situations from the bits of dramatic interplay that we witness. The film makes a deep impression with its gorgeous imagery, every moment looks like an antique photograph come to life, but the specificity with which every character is created is masterful and makes you feel that you’ve truly gotten to know everyone involved even though no one single person gets the lion’s share of plot. It’s a challenging work but in the best possible way, and is essential viewing.