San Francisco Art Exchange LLC (SFAE) is pleased and proud to announce that it has been selected to exclusively represent the sale of the Separate Cinema Archive: a comprehensive collection of such singular unprecedented importance that there is no other remotely like it in world. The archive is comprised of 35,000 items, including rare vintage posters, lobby cards and photographs originating from 30 countries, that chronicles the historic and often turbulent story of African-American cinema, from the beginning of the silent era right on through to the present day.
Beginning with the gift of a single movie poster in 1972, archive founder John Kisch, a renowned photographer and author, made it his mission to weave the narrative of the African-American film industry – black actors, writers and directors – and over the next four decades he amassed a collection that is a true one of a kind, representing the single largest archive of black-related movie posters and photos anywhere in the world.
The Separate Cinema Archive is a rich tableaux, epic in scale, one that holds significant importance not only in cinema history, but also for social, political and cultural historians as it tells both the story of the black filmmaking industry of the 20th Century as well as that of the global black experience. Each poster and photograph brings forth a new chapter in the struggle for equality, and with every movie depicted iconic heroes emerge – writers, directors, actors and characters who fought against stereotyping and marginalization from both Hollywood and society as a whole.
“History relies on evidence, and the Separate Cinema Archive provides that,” says Theron Kabrich, who along with Jim Hartley founded and serves as director of the SFAE. “This collection pays respect to the contributions of the filmmakers and artists who literally changed history through their work.”
One of the first films represented in the Separate Cinema Archive is D.W. Griffith’s 1915 three-hour drama The Birth of a Nation. Although revolutionary for its time for its editing and camera techniques, the picture outraged many (including the NAACP) for its glorification of the Ku Klux Klan and its negative depiction of blacks. Widespread protests against the picture failed to result in a ban, but what emerged was the first generation of black independent filmmakers who would seize the moment to tell the full humanity of African Americans.
Starting just 50 years after the Civil War, there were visionaries like Noble Johnson, who with middle-class melodramas like The Realization of a Negro’s Ambition for his own Lincoln Motion Picture Company launched the “race film” business, along with Oscar Michaeux (“the first black film auteur”), who wrote, produced and directed dozens of pictures, including 1931’s The Exile, the first all-black-cast independently produced talkie.
Other indelible figures advance the story: Josephine Baker, Dorothy Dandridge, Lena Horn, and Hattie McDaniel, who became the first African-American to win an Academy Award (Best Supporting Actress for Gone With the Wind). And, of course, there’s Sidney Poitier, whose significance cannot be overstated. Becoming the first African-American to win Best Actor (for 1963’s Lilies of the Field), his unprecedented string of 1960s civil rights-themed box-office smashes – along with his own behind-the-scenes work for equality – opened the floodgates for enterprising and ambitious black filmmakers like Melvin Van Peebles (Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song) and Gordon Parks (Shaft), who ushered in the enormously popular – and controversial – era of blaxploitation.
There are music films (Wattstax, The Harder They Come) and comedies (Blazing Saddles, Uptown Saturday Night), dramas (Sounder,Nothing But a Man) and documentaries (Float Like a Butterfly, Sting Like a Bee), and starting in the ’80s the evolution gains serious speed with groundbreaking works of directors such as Gordon Parks Jr., Charles Burnett, Darnell Martin, Michael Schultz, Spike Lee,John Singleton, Antoine Fuqua, Kasi Lemmons, F. Gary Gray, the Hughes Brothers, Ava DuVernay and Steve McQueen. And with them came bankable black stars – Denzel Washington, Eddie Murphy, Halle Barry, Forest Whitaker, Oprah Winfrey and Whoopi Goldberg – whose box-office receipts rivaled that of their white counterparts. The recent Oscar wins for films like 12 Years a Slave and Moonlightstand as living repudiations of D.W. Griffith’s shameful plantation fantasy.
“It’s important to note that the greatest stories in American history take place in a country that was built on slavery and involuntary servitude,” says Kabrich. “A lot of people, certainly in Hollywood, made a lot of money based on the back of that history. You see that in rich detail throughout the narrative of this collection in that it pays homage to a significant part of the population that was involved with entertainment and storytelling. And that part of the population was either marginalized or forgotten completely, ridiculously.”
Adds Hartley: “I had two reactions when I first saw the collection. The first was how significant it is and the gravity that it represents. It was so beautiful in ways I hadn’t imagined. And the other thought was how grateful and honored Theron and I feel to be able to be the fiduciary custodians of it for a brief time. We want to make sure that it receives its rightful home and that people are able to witness it in the appropriate manner.”
Parts of the archive have been featured as traveling exhibits at film festivals, corporate galleries, and art institutions, but for the first time the archive is available for sale as a complete property.
The book “Separate Cinema: The First 100 Years of Black Poster Art” poignantly illustrates the collection. Published by Reel Art Press, the volume was released in 2014 to stellar reviews.
Source via PR Newswire