Haile Gerima

Haile Gerima

Haile Gerima is an independent filmmaker and professor of film at Howard University in Washington, D.C. Born and raised in Ethiopia, Gerima emigrated to the United States in 1967. Following in the footsteps of his father, a dramatist and playwright. Gerima studied acting in Chicago before entering the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television, where his exposure to Latin American films inspired him to mine his own cultural legacy. After completing his thesis film, Bush Mama (1975), Gerima received international acclaim with Harvest: 3000 Years (1976), an Ethiopian drama that won the Grand Prize at the Locarno film festival.

After the award-winning Ashes & Embers (1982) and the documentaries Wilmington 10—U.S.A 10,000 (1978) and After Winter: Sterling Brown (1985), Gerima filmed his epic, Sankofa (1993). This formally ambitious tale of a plantation slave revolt was ignored by U.S. distributors, but Gerima tapped into African American communities, and booked sold-out screenings in independent theaters around the country.

In 1996, Gerima founded the Sankofa Video and Bookstore in Washington, DC., a cultural and intellectual space that offers opportunities for self-expression, interaction, discussion and analysis through community events such as  film screenings, book signings, scholar forums and artist showcases. Gerima continues to distribute and promote his own films, including his most recent festival success, Teza (2008), which won the Jury and Best Screenplay awards at the Venice Film Festival. He also lectures and conducts workshops in alternative screenwriting and directing both within the U.S. and internationally.


Birthplace: Gondar, Ethiopia
Education: UCLA, B.A. 1972, M.F.A. 1976

Selected Filmography

Film Role(s) Year
Hour Glass (1971) Hour Glass

A young African-American male rethinks his role as a basketball player for the white establishment as he reads the works of Third World theoreticians, such as Franz Fanon, in  Haile Gerima’s “Project One” film.

Director
Producer
Writer
Cinematographer
Editor
1971
Child of Resistance (1972) Child of Resistance

Inspired by a dream Haile Gerima had after seeing Angela Davis handcuffed on television, Child of Resistance is an abstract and symbolic film that follows a woman imprisoned as a result of her fight for social justice.

Director
Producer
Writer
Editor
1972
Bush Mama (1975) Bush Mama

Bush Mama is Haile Gerima's powerfully moving look at the realities of inner city poverty and systemic disenfranchisement as experienced by Dorothy, a pregnant welfare recipient in Watts, played by the magnetic Barbara O. Jones. Motivated by the incarceration of her partner T.C. (Weathers) and the protection of her daughter and unborn child, Dorothy undergoes an ideological transformation from apathy to action.

Director
Producer
Writer
Editor
1975
Harvest: 3,000 Years (1976) Harvest: 3,000 Years

Haile Gerima’s first feature work set in Africa employs visions of his native Ethiopia to construct a post-colonial allegory of class exploitation. Depicting a peasant family toiling under a wealthy feudal landlord, the film blends numerous narrative techniques to create an impassioned work of haunting beauty.

Director
Producer
Writer
Editor
1976
Ashes & Embers (1982) Ashes & Embers

Nay Charles is an African American Vietnam veteran who no longer fits in, can’t find a job and is ultimately arrested by the police. Like his protagonist, Haile Gerima is both drawn to and skeptical of the black nationalist ideology. Finally, Gerima places his faith in African American youth, a vision of utopia after the grim lessons of contemporary race relations in America.

Director
Producer
Writer
Editor
1982
Sankofa (1993) Sankofa

Haile Gerima’s American masterpiece has had a transformative impact on audiences. The film follows Mona, an African American model on a fashion shoot in Ghana who undergoes a journey back in time and place to a slave plantation in North America where she becomes Shola, a house slave. Through this process, Mona recovers her lost slave identity and confronts her ancestral experience.

Director
Producer
Writer
Editor
1993

Video Clips

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