- Close-Up Gallery:Teza
A Gallery of Word-and-Image featuring Haile Gerima 1
Cocurated by Metta Sáma and Greg Thomas
I. Gallery Opening
I. Gallery Opening: "ANSWERABLE"
Regard Haile Gerima's earliest cinema, from beginning to end, and watch his tendency to do remarkable things with the mundane. Behold what he often does with closing credits from Child of Resistance (1972) to Teza (2008). The first set of films does not identify him as producer, director and scriptwriter, or editor. The auteur signed Bush Mama (1976), simply, "ANSWERABLE." The message was that he strove to be answerable himself; artistically, he was and is answerable to forces that leave auteur individualism in the dust: Ancestors, community, elders, youth, humanity, "All Over the World Afrikans" as one firebrand poet put it ages ago. This was an important point to establish in places and spaces where other filmmakers might not think to make meaning or leave messages at all. The ensuing gallery of words and images illustrates both how poetic his Pan-African cinema is and how answerable it is to poets of the page. Here, it is the call to their response; and they respond quite visually to this series or flow of juxtaposed film stills that reconnects images, geographies, time spaces, and populations too often disconnected, even systematically segregated, by academic criticism and assorted politics of the status quo. [End Page 106]
1. Generations, Walking (Figures 1, 2)
Ashes and Embers (1982) is the "story of a Vietnam veteran who almost one decade after the war [is still coming] to terms with his role in the war and his role as a Black person in America. His transformation from a bitter ex-soldier to a strong and confident man is encouraged and provoked by the love and chastisement of his grandmother and friends."2
A grandmother and grandson walk on a long and winding road together here in this least discussed of Gerima's dramatic feature film productions. They trek to her community church where she prays and prays in communion for his safe return from Vietnam. She is as profoundly religious as she is radically political, arguably without contradiction. The scene is an acoustic image; no words are spoken—they will hold hands and cast tender glances while a powerful score of spirited Black music sonically overwhelms the film. They make their way. On this day, Nay Charles goes to church simply to please her. Later, their religious differences and, moreover, his personal struggles and postwar traumas will make this earlier moment one of the film's most precious emotional memories. This is why he's been running back home in his dreams and in actual reality to "Grand-mama," all these years.
Adwa: An African Victory (1999) is indeed a tale of victory: "On March 2, 1896, Italy embarked on what would have been Europe's final colonial conquest of a continental African country. With brilliant military intelligence..., united and willed, the Ethiopian people triumphed over this Italian invasion at the glorious 'Battle of Adwa.'" This victory reignited a lasting flame of hope for freedom and independence in the hearts of Africans throughout the world, at home and abroad. This innovative, commemorative documentary film "joins the voices of Ethiopian historians, elders, priests, poets and praise-singers in a collage of Ethiopian landscapes, paintings, photographs and faces," championing an otherwise hidden source of "Pan-African empowerment."
The filmmaker frequently finds himself inside the frame in Adwa. Literally and figuratively, he is walking a path with one of the many elders interviewed throughout the course of the film. If this elder appears to be visually impaired physically, he is in any case a seer whose historical sight and insight may easily expose others as blind to the knowledge or collective self-knowledge now highlighted on-screen. The younger Gerima is visibly touched and awed, humbled and honored, taking the elder's hand and holding on. The impact of such interactions on the filmmaker, for one, is thus a central part of the film itself. At the very outset of Adwa, a griot sings: "Why didn't...