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Black Diaspora Cinema


Kenneth Macpherson


The cycle gets underway with the premiere in this country of Borderline, a classic of UK silent films directed by Kenneth Macpherson which will be introduced by Beatriz Leal -sessions curator- and screened with live music by Clarence Bekker Band.

This classic silent film shot in Territet, Switzerland in just over a week and starring the Pool Group (Hilda Doolittle, Robert Herring, and Winifred Bryher), together with the Afro-American Paul Robeson and his wife Eslanda, was directed by Kenneth Macpherson, editor of the magazine Close Up (1927-1933). The iconic presence of Robeson, singer, actor, civil rights activist, and leading figure of the Harlem Renaissance, links the 1920s avant-garde movements at the international level, bringing to the foreground the black presence in the history of cinema and revealing its racially motivated and nationalist silences and omissions.

Forgotten until it was rediscovered in the 1980s, this experimental, avant-garde work is influenced by Sergei Eisenstein in the montage and by G. W. Pabst in the psychoanalytical approach of the shots. Standing alone among the canonical film stories, Borderline situates at its centre, through a homoerotic interracial love triangle, issues of gender, race, class, and sexuality, all of them heartfelt concerns of the European avant-garde and black artists and philosophers of the time, among them Langston Hughes, Zora Neale Hurston, Aaron Douglas, Countee Cullen, Oscar Micheaux, Duke Ellington, and Alain Locke in their “New Negro” project. Robeson’s fatal destiny after being denounced as a communist and blacklisted by the FBI, and targeted by its COINTELPRO counter-intelligence programme is paradigmatic of the concealment and distortion of the black presence in history. The US government banned him from continuing to work in cinema and acting in theatres, brutally curtailing his career, taking his passport, and consigning him to oblivion. As a result of his activism, his central role, and his erasure, Robeson has become a ghostly presence that resurges, through his peerless voice, in soundtracks by contemporary authors of the black diaspora, thus creating for insiders a sound memory of political reach. Borderline itself is presented (as John Akomfrah puts it) as a kind of utopian moment, understood as an alternative beginning of a history of cinema with a variety of actors, ways of working together, and languages.

Kenneth Macpherson
1930 / Switzerland / 63 min / Digital screening with spanish subtitles

Presenters: Beatriz Leal

Participants: Clarence Bekker Band

This activity is part of William Kentridge, Black Diaspora Cinema

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