A celebrated film scholar, author, archivist, educator, activist, filmmaker, and independent distributor, Harlem-raised Pearl Bowser is a stalwart champion of independent film and filmmakers of color. Alongside her late colleagues Mel Roman, psychologist and artist, and Charles Hobson, producer-writer at ABC-TV, Bowser researched and curated a landmark retrospective at the Jewish Museum in 1970 called “The Black Film,” igniting a new wave of enduring interest in exhibiting, producing, and engaging with African American cinema beyond borders. She has spent her multifaceted career cultivating audiences for marginalized voices in motion pictures, particularly with her groundbreaking work on early-1900s Black film pioneer Oscar Micheaux. She’s traveled the globe in pursuit of this urgent mission.
The Black Film Series Revisited: Pearl Bowser at the Jewish Museum
Lisa Collins, Mark Schwartzburt, 10 min.
In November 2021, Pearl revisited the Jewish Museum five decades after programming “The Black Film,” and spoke with longtime associates and fellow filmmakers Lisa Collins and Mark Schwartzburt. The NYJFF presents an excerpt from the interview conducted during this visit, containing Bowser’s reflections on the film series, nuances in Black filmmaking, and her storied life’s journey.
Ten Bob in Winter
Lloyd Reckord, United Kingdom, 1963, 10 min.
In this pioneering short, experimental in form and radical in subject matter, a West Indian student tries to recover a 10-shilling loan over Christmas break and confronts colorism within the Black community. Director Lloyd Reckord supplies ironic voice-over narration in the style of Langston Hughes, while the Joe Harriott Quintet contributes a breezy jazz score.
Body and Soul
Oscar Micheaux, USA, 1925, 82 min.
The first significant Black feature filmmaker and the most accomplished in cinema’s early decades, Oscar Micheaux contributed over 40 motion pictures, with Body and Soul a true tour de force: Adapting his own novel to the screen, he also directed and produced it and distributed it himself. In an auspicious acting debut, gospel and folk singer Paul Robeson (like Micheaux, a trailblazer in his medium) plays the dual roles of an escaped convict hiding out in a Georgia town by posing as a minister and the con’s estranged twin brother; both love the same woman. While the story doesn’t shy away from melodramatic tropes, Micheaux’s flair behind the camera and Robeson’s charisma in front of it make for essential viewing. A landmark silent “race film” (i.e., made exclusively by and for African Americans), Body and Soul was selected by the Library of Congress for inclusion in the prestigious National Film Registry.