With the passing of celebrated film critic and Black Harvest Film Festival co-founder and consultant Sergio Mims last fall, the Gene Siskel Film Center today announced the establishment of the Sergio Mims Fund for Black Excellence in Filmmaking, an important move to honor his legacy of giving a voice and platform to the next generation of Black filmmakers.
Next, let’s take a look at the legacy of this visionary for Chicago. “Sergio was a family friend for many, many years. As a producer, I recall how delightful it was to be first to book him as a guest on Chicago Tonight and other media to share his wit and wisdom. Sergio was a connector, always bringing people together over shared passions and strong opinions,” said Board Chair of Kartemquin Films Sylvia Ewing. “Sergio was deeply committed to giving Black filmmakers a platform to show their work and engage new audiences. This fund is a worthy memorial to his vision to help bring more Black voices to the conversation around film and the film experience.”
The fund was established by a planning committee consisting of Black Harvest Film Festival supporters Barbara Allen, Sylvia Ewing, Amir George, N.K. Gutiérrez, Isabelle Martin, Lisa Mims, Troy Pryor, and Cleo Wilson. It is administered by Kartemquin Films.
Mims and the Gene Siskel Film Center, a public program of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, established the nearly 30-year-old Black Harvest Film Festival in 1994 to showcase the full range of the Black experience. Since the program began, it has become one of the premier Black film festivals in the world, running for a full month and showing more than 50 shorts, documentaries, and narrative movies from filmmakers across the US and throughout the world. With Mims’ passing and the departure of the Film Center’s executive director this month, the Gene Siskel Film Center is in discussion with its Black Harvest Community Council to re-envision production and curation with community input to ensure the festival will continue to be programmed by Black leaders and is authentic to the experiences of its audience.
“The Black Harvest Film Festival is part of the foundation of Black culture that celebrates Black excellence, and the films that have been presented have had a long-lasting impact on the Black diaspora,” said Marcus Spearman, member of the Black Harvest Community Council and assistant vice president of BMO Financial Group, a long-time sponsor of the festival. “The festival has created its legacy in the film industry, in Chicago, and around the country. In honor of Sergio, let’s continue the work and see what its legacy can be as we move forward for the next 29 years and beyond.”
This process of re-envisioning how the Black Harvest Film Festival moves forward will be inclusive and transparent, engaging the public. The Gene Siskel Film Center will work with a facilitator to lead this process, which will include hosting a series of listening and briefing sessions that will be open to the larger Chicago community.
“The Black Harvest Film Festival is a cherished piece of Black culture, and it belongs to all of us, so it’s only right that the way forward is not determined by one entity, but instead by the community that has supported it for all of these years,” said Cleo Wilson, board member of Intuit: The Center for Intuitive and Outsider Art. “We are grateful for those who’ve made space for inclusion, and we will continue to honor Sergio and his legacy.”
With the passing of Mims and the search underway for the Gene Siskel Film Center’s next permanent executive director, this is a transitional period, though the Film Center and the Black Harvest Community Council are committed to the work that lies ahead.
“The future of the Black Harvest Film Festival is as important as its past. This inclusive and transparent process where myriad voices and perspectives are heard and considered is appropriate because it honors and respects the festival’s legacy while setting it up to thrive going forward,” said Barbara Allen, member of the Black Harvest Community Council.
The 29th annual Black Harvest Film Festival is slated for the fall. In the coming weeks, the Gene Siskel Film Center will announce details of the festival and solicit film submissions for the festival.
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