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  • Writer's pictureCarrie Specht

Charles Burnett, Billy Woodberry & the L.A. Rebellion at the 2021 TCM Classic Film Festival

The late 1960s - early 1990s independent film movement known as the "LA Rebellion" was founded by Black film students at UCLA, including Charles Burnett, Julie Dash and Billy Woodberry. The movement eschewed Hollywood conventions and was influenced by films from Latin America, Italian neorealism, European art films, and the emerging cinema of Africa. TCM Host Jacqueline Stewart will discuss the seminal movement with Billy Woodberry and Charles Burnett.

Film scholar Clyde Taylor coined the term "L.A. Rebellion" to describe a group of filmmakers and artists who worked to develop an alternative to the dominant style of slick, romanticized Hollywood movies characterized by its rejection of traditional filmmaking conventions in favor of experimentation and spirit of nonconformity. It was started in the 1960s at UCLA's School of Theater, Film and Television and was devised to enable minority student directors of Black, as well as Chicano, Asian American and Native American, culture to tell the world about their community. Charles Burnett and Billy Woodberry were among those students who strived to create an authentic Black cinema.

Burnett is a writer-director whose work has received extensive honors. Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, and raised in the Watts neighborhood of Los Angeles, Burnett studied creative writing at UCLA before entering the University’s graduate film program. His thesis project, Killer of Sheep (1977), won accolades at film festivals and a critical devotion. In 1990, the film was among the first titles named to the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry. In 1988 Burnett was awarded the prestigious MacArthur ("genius grant”) Fellowship and shortly thereafter became the first African American recipient of the National Society of Film Critics’ best screenplay award, for To Sleep with Anger (1990). Burnett has been awarded grants from the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the J. P. Getty Foundation. In 2011, the Museum of Modern Art showcased his work with a month-long retrospective.

Also one of the founders of the L.A. Rebellion film movement, Woodberry's first feature film, Bless Their Little Hearts (1983) is a pioneer and essential work, influenced by Italian neorealism and the work of "Third Cinema" filmmakers. The film received awards from the International Catholic Organization for Cinema, and "Interfilm" for promoting inter-religious dialogue at the Berlin International Film Festival. It was also added to the National Film Registry of the Library of Congress in 2013. His latest feature film, And When I Die, I Won’t Stay Dead about the beat poet Bob Kaufman, was the opening film of MoMA’s Doc Fortnight in 2016. His work has been screened at the Cannes and Berlin Film Festivals, the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), Harvard Film Archive, Camera Austria Symposium, Human Rights Watch Film Festival, the Tate Modern and Centre Pompidou.

This event is unlike any the TCMFF has presented before. It can perhaps even be considered the festival's most earnest and intellectual event ever scheduled. I suspect it may be a challenging conversation for some, but with the 2021 virtual lineup, it should be an event you can squeeze into your viewing schedule. I would go so far as to say it's one you need to incorporate into your list of "must-sees". It's the kind of cultural diversity the festival, and the network itself, has been known to celebrate, but not too frequently incorporate. Now is the opportunity to learn about one of the most important, and little known, movements in the history of modern cinema.


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