Last night at the Walter Reade Theater, filmmaker Jessie Maple joined an audience to watch a screening of her recently preserved 1981 film, Will. Shot in 80's Harlem, the film is an interesting exploration of drug addiction but I have to admit that what I found most fascinating was seeing this neighborhood from this time period and the people in it. Will differs greatly from much of the black cinema I grew up with (in a white American suburb - not a lot of diversity there as you might imagine), which has mainly been Blaxploitation at odd hours on cable or themed midnight shows at the downtown art house theater. And while I do appreciate those, it was refreshing and also important to see an early urban drama played out without the typical stereotypes that usually accompany the former. In addition it was the lovley Loretta Devine's first film role. During the post Q&A, Ms. Maples said Ms. Devine had started work on Dream Girls when she was filming Will. The film is of great significance in many ways, not least of which is the fact that it is the first independent feature film to be directed by a black woman. Drake Stutesman moderated the post discussion by providing some background on both Jessie Maples (looking amazing) and the young filmmaker Tanya Hamilton. Ms. Hamilton's work is said to have strong parallels with that of Will. Ms. Hamilton admitted she hadn't seen Will before this showing and was surprised at the multiple similarities between Ms. Maple's film and her own recent effort. Her film, Night Catches Us opens this week in Manhattan. Both directors were quite gracious and although Ms. Maples hadn't seen Ms. Hamilton's work, there was obvious respectful warmth between the two.
New York Women in Film and Television's Women's Film Preservation Fund screened this newly and fully restored print of Jessie Maple's Will, in conjunction with Film Society of Lincoln Center. WFPF has contributed to the restoration of over 80 American short and feature films in which women have played a major role. I am thrilled to be a committee member of WFPF and highly recommend donating to the fund so we can save more important films before they're gone. To find out more, please visit www.womensfilmpreservation.org