"The Flying Ace" (1926)
“The Flying Ace” (1926)

One of the most acclaimed and successful DVD sets of the year was Kino Lorber’s collection “The Pioneers of African American Cinema.” The five disc set curated by historians Prof. Jacqueline Najuma Stewart of the University of Chicago and Charles Musser of Yale University (and which will released in the UK on Oct 24 from BFI Video), is a collection of twenty-five digitally restored early black films or “race films” made by early black and white filmmakers, from the silent era to the 1940’s.

Nearly 500 independently produced race films exclusively made for black audiences were produced in the United States between 1915 and 1952, and shown in over 1000 movie theaters across the country; although most of them are now lost due to neglect and poor preservation.

The Kino (and BFI) sets restored some of these films to their proper importance as significant and vital parts in the history of the image of black people in the movies, and the development of cinema.

Now these films, and the DVD set, has inspired a film series taking place at the University of Chicago, in which a selection of films from the set (including one which is not in the collection) will be screened and discussed, starting this month and continuing until December.

The film series, simply called “African American Film Pioneers”, starts off with the Paul Robeson film, “The Emperor Jones” – the only film not in the Kino set – followed in order by the 1926 silent film “The Flying Ace”, which will feature live accompaniment by composer/conductor Renée Baker’s Chicago Modern Orchestra Project; the 1939 western “The Bronze Buckaroo” with Herb Jeffreys wearing a cowboy hat decades before Denzel Washington wore one; the 1946 Spencer Williams’ film “Dirty Gertie from Harlem U.S.A.”; and the truly weird, almost surrealistic 1926 silent film “Eleven P.M.”, made by the Detroit based black filmmaker Richard Maurice, of which very little is known; it is sadly his only film that is known to have survived.

The series, which will be introduced by Prof. Stewart and U of C Professor Allyson Field, will begin on Saturday Oct. 8, starting at 7PM, and will continue every other Saturday until Dec. 3. The screenings will take place at the Logan Center of the Arts on the University of Chicago campus, located at 915 E. 60th St. Also, all the screenings are free and open to the public (first come first served, though seating is limited), so you have no excuse not to go if you live in the Chicagoland area.

For more information about the series go HERE.