January 9, 2008 — Just as Oscar Micheaux, who was recently featured in the U.Va. Art Museum’s Media Gallery, is considered the greatest black filmmaker of the silent movie era, many now consider Charles Burnett America's greatest living black director. His first film, widely acknowledged as an American masterpiece, "Killer of Sheep," was featured at the recent Virginia Film Festival. Another of his films, however, "Nightjohn," a lesser-known but equally important film, comes to the U.Va. Art Museum this winter.
Burnett, born in 1944, was raised in Vicksburg, Miss. and educated at the University of California-Los Angeles. While a graduate student at UCLA in 1977, he made his first film, "Killer of Sheep." Burnett's career continued throughout the decades following, as he directed films like "To Sleep with Anger," starring Danny Glover, and "The Glass Shield," featuring Ice Cube, Michael Boatman and Lori Petty. In 1996, he directed a movie adaptation of a Gary Paulsen book called "Nightjohn," which aired on the Disney Channel. The film addresses slavery, a topic rarely covered in American films, and is a powerful and illuminating experience for both children and adults.
The film follows a young African-American slave named Sarny, who acts as both narrator and protagonist of the story. Sarny is a young house-slave on a cotton plantation, and is taught to read by Nightjohn (Carl Lumbly), a slave who escaped to the north, but eventually returned to captivity in order to teach others what he had learned and experienced.
The film will be screened at 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. daily, Tuesdays through Sundays, between Jan. 17 and March 3. The museum is open to the public without charge Tuesdays through Sundays, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. Parking is available on Bayly Drive, off Rugby Road.