Passing Through, the Black Cinematheque, and the Networks of Larry Clark

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Curator's Note

The dossier for Larry Clark’s Passing Through (1977) includes a selection from Clark’s papers, his paintings, and influential album covers for the film. His papers, which he compiled as his artist portfolio, not only gives insight into how and with whom the film was made, but also sheds light on the active network of production companies, filmmakers, and festivals dedicated to producing and exhibiting black films. The festival catalogs and posters act as tangible records of a particularly rich moment of the international black film scene in the late 70s, 80s, and early 90s.

One such finding was a brochure for a film series titled “The Black Cinematheque” held here in Atlanta at Ellis Cinema in 1988. The weeklong program brought together films by L.A. Rebellion filmmakers out of UCLA—including Clark, Julie Dash, Billy Woodberry, Haile Gerima, Ben Caldwell, and Barbara McCollough—with the New York independent filmmakers, including Spike Lee, Kathleen Collins, and Jesse Maple. Both groups have seen a resurgence of critical examination and exhibition through L.A Rebellion: Creating a New Black Cinema and Tell It Like It Is: Black Independents in New York, respectively. Lee, Dash, and Gordon Parks were present for conversations following the screening of their films. Speakers also included producers Warrington Hudlin—founder of Black Filmmakers’ Foundation, and Saundra Sharp—director of Black Film Television Technicians and Artists.

The humble two-page brochure speaks volumes for the initiatives and successes of black independent films, and their role in Atlanta’s changing cultural landscape. Though the theater’s edifice dates back to 1940, Ellis Cinema was only active for a few short years between 1984 and 1988. The Black Cinematheque program screened during the theater’s final year of showing films. Following its closing, Atlanta Journal Constitution staff writer Eleanor Ringel wrote the article, “Movie House in Age of Multiplexes, Ellis Was the Real Thing,” lamenting the end of the era for single-screen movie houses in Atlanta. Ellis Cinema would later become and still remains the Variety Playhouse, a popular concert venue. 

By making Clark’s papers accessible, liquid blackness hopes to contribute to the increasing publication and dissemination of formal and informal, digital and physical archives of black cultural production and the networks that emerged. We hope that the images made available through the dossier work to spark and support further inquiry.

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