Progressive cinema clips: Cinetopia, Robeson film, “Chiraq”

Cinetopia Film Festival 2015

Detroit area film lovers are being treated to a new and expanded version of the Cinetopia Film Festival, now in its fourth year and growing rapidly. An impressive lineup of titles, many of interest to progressives, are being screened at several theaters all the way from Detroit to its neighboring campus town of Ann Arbor 45 miles away. The country’s only Arab Museum, and the country’s largest African American history museum are lending their facilities to augment the screening options. A free Orson Welles Symposium will screen many of the master’s greatest titles, in addition to several panels discussing the five Welles archive collections housed at the University of Michigan. Specific titles will be discussed in future columns. The festival runs June 5-14.

Robeson film directed by Steve McQueen

It’s been reported that famed British filmmaker, Steve McQueen, is working on a new film about Paul Robeson. The script will focus on the idea that the American icon, who was unflinching in his determination for social change, was driven to death by forces opposed to his political beliefs. McQueen recently gained world praise for his bold depiction of American slavery in 12 Years a Slave, a film that many felt could never be made in America (so it was made in England). This might also be the case with the upcoming Robeson flick. Robeson, closely associated with the CPUSA but never claiming membership, defied all attempts to be silenced, and continually spoke out against injustice and inequality. Embracing the Soviet Union caused him further isolation, even among some segments of the divided left, and his passport was eventually revoked, denying him communication with his fans outside the US. Although he eventually gained permission to travel outside the country, his ill health prevented his participation in the burgeoning civil rights movement. McQueen’s film will be addressing questions about his possible poisoning and foul play by the government that was threatened by his power and influence.

Detroit Tribute to Paul Robeson

Back in 1987 the U.S. Peace Council sponsored an event in Detroit called The Detroit Tribute to Paul Robeson and His Work for Peace. The exhaustive two and a half hour multimedia presentation included local Detroit dignitaries who were interviewed about their friendship with Robeson. The Hartford Memorial Baptist Church was one of the few venues across the country that offered Robeson a performance space during his blacklisting years. Coleman A Young, Detroit’s first Black mayor, along with famed Congressman and lawyer George W. Crockett, Council President Erma L. Henderson, Dr. Charles Wright and several others lavish praise on the great Renaissance man in the musical production featuring Edward Pierson singing Robeson’s spirituals along with the Hartford Choir. The historic performance will soon be made available on DVD and will be premiered in Detroit August 7 at The Wright Museum.

Spike Lee film “Chiraq”

Spike Lee, no stranger to controversy, recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of his classic urban tale, Do the Right Thing. With an amazing body of work numbering 62 films in a relatively short lifetime, Lee is known for tackling tough topics, and defying Hollywood’s hegemony on the film industry. He’s made several powerful docs, including 4 Little Girls depicting the tragic Alabama church bombing, When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts which condemns the Bush administration’s failure to respond to the Katrina Hurricane tragedy, and the TV biopic The Huey P. Newton Story covering the 10-point program for social reform by the Black Panther Party.

Now it’s been revealed that Lee is working on his latest film, entitled Chiraq, focusing on the growing urban violence in Chicago. Although little is known about the specifics, Lee cautions that critics should wait until they see the film. There are concerns about the use of the contracted word “Chiraq,” comparing Chicago to violence-ridden Iraq, but Lee warns that there is a desensitizing process occurring when violence multiplies and it needs to be addressed. He feels this film is a culminating moment in his 30-year career, and judging by the sympathy and concern he is showing to the communities of violence, much like his willingness to tell the stories of the New Orleans Katrina victims, this film just might have an impact on drawing attention to and helping curtail the growing violence in Chicago, and across the nation in major cities.

 The “Yes Men” are back

Yes Men Are Revolting is being released this weekend in theaters across the country. This is the third installment from the comedic team that utilizes pranks, hoaxes and impersonations to befuddle and gain access into the corridors of power, and expose corporate crimes against humanity. This installment, considered by many to be the better of the three, addresses their personal lives and the difficulties they face fighting for social change. Their fresh and creative inventions are hilarious and effective and send a hopeful message.

 Photo: Spike Lee (José Cruz/ABr/CC)


Bill Meyer
Bill Meyer

Bill Meyer frequently writes movie reviews for People’s World, often from film festivals. He is a keyboardist at Bill Meyer Music and current member of Detroit Federation of Musicians. He lives in Hamtramck, Michigan.