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The Essentials - May 2019
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Remind Me

Ashes and Embers

A mosaic of African-American life, Haile Gerima's award-winning film jumps back and forth through time to create an impression of life for a black Vietnam veteran (John Anderson) suffering from PTSD. The film starts in Los Angeles, where Anderson tries to start an acting career and markets himself to play black stereotypes while dealing with the everyday realities of racism. It then flashes among other key periods in his life, namely his return from Vietnam to his grandmother's seemingly idyllic farm in the South and his attempts to create a family in Washington, D.C. Throughout, he feels alienated, first from his grandmother's traditional values and then from his wife's involvement in the black power movement. He is also haunted by often overwhelming memories of the war. Ethiopian-born filmmaker Gerima is a member of the L.A. Rebellion, a group of black filmmakers who studied at UCLA in the late '60s and early '70s. Like Julie Dash and Charles Burnett, Gerima makes independent films about African-American life that provide an alternative to Hollywood depictions of race. For him, the fragmentary, non-linear style of Ashes and Embers is a revolutionary act, a deliberate affront to the narrative expectations of conventional Hollywood cinema. Ultimately, the film does not strive to create any coherent explanation for its protagonist's life, focusing instead on capturing his impressions of experience. Ashes and Embers won the FIPRESCI Film Critics Award at the Berlin Film Festival and Outstanding Production at the London Film Festival.

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