“Ican’t tell you how all the films came to us,” said Gwendolyn Hampton, smiling with one part conspiratorial superiority mixed with two parts pulling my leg. “I don’t want to give away my trade secrets.” Looking over at her spouse and cofounder of the African Heritage Film Series Friday Hampton, she broke into laughter. “It’s because we’re serious about this and people understand we’re genuine,” said the sonorous-toned Friday. “That’s how we get the films.”
“Some of them we dug up,” she answered, “we researched; some of it we found, and a surprising number of things just came to us.”
The series’ coup de gr•ce, for instance, was a combination of the three. Now in its ninth year, the African Heritage Film Series features a very hot Santa Barbara premiere of the new John Sayles film, Honeydripper, a fictional story that mixes history and myth to offer one fanciful version of the day rock ‘n’ roll was invented. “Somebody invited us to a screening, and we loved it,” said Gwendolyn. They asked some questions, and the rest just fell into place.
They’re not the only ones smitten with the film. “I loved it even before I read the script,” said Danny Glover, calling last week from Manhattan. “On one level it’s about a man who has a lounge, a self-employed independent businessman, a proprietor trying to hold on to his establishment in hard times,” the actor, who plays Tyrone Purvis, said. “But this is 1950 in Alabama, and that in itself is a rarity.”
The story concerns Purvis’s scheme to throw one big, get-outta-debt concert with Guitar Sam. Sam doesn’t show, but Sonny, a young man with an electric guitar, does. “All of this is taking place at a time when music is changing, when the South is changing, when the world is changing,” said Glover. “It’s 1950, and it’s five years after World War II ended and five years before Little Rock and the civil rights movement.”
It’s a great story with great undercurrents, said Glover, a renowned Hollywood progressive who, along with Harry Belafonte, has championed Venezuela’s controversial Hugo Ch¡vez. But it’s not only the politics he admires about Sayles’s moviemaking. “He creates an atmosphere in which you can work,” Glover said. “It’s quite great, actually. And the language is so rich; the words just fall off the page. I have this one monologue that’s like a page-and-a-half, and it shines in so many places.”
Attendees at the all-day film series on Saturday, February 23, will see more than just Sayles’s film. The day offers five feature films including a documentary about Uganda called War Dance, which recently showed at SBIFF, as well as six short films. They gleaned that number down from about 30 films they liked. “We opted for quality rather than quantity,” said Gwendolyn.
Friday’s favorite film is the opener, I’m Through with White Girls, a title that makes him laugh. “It actually has a very positive message,” Friday said. Both laughed at Gwendolyn’s choice, 23rd Psalm, which is apparently somewhat deceptively titled, too. “Let’s just say it has an interesting ending,” she said.
The Hamptons met in a church in Long Beach and both have dedicated their lives to offering education and inspiration with respect to African-American culture-the film series, for instance, is just one part of a month-long celebration. They had to call on their spirituality when this year’s successes were projected against an irreparable loss: the Hamptons’ 23-year-old son, David Sterling, died in a tragic medical mishap this year-and the entire series is dedicated to his memory. “He always helped with the program before,” said Friday. “This year, he was old enough to really want to get involved.” Both parents, by all accounts, have shown tremendous strength keeping the series and all its attendant events going in light of their loss.
“For that reason, I wish I could be there,” said Glover, who may be best known for playing Sergeant Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon but has added significantly to African-American-related cinema in such roles as Harry in To Sleep with Anger and the avuncular Paul D. in Beloved. He’s also received money recently from the Venezuelan government to make a movie about Toussaint L’Ouverture, who freed the slaves in Haiti. “But sometime soon I promise to get out there,” said Glover, who is currently spending a lot of time with his grandson, who at four also wants to be an actor. “The Hamptons are doing a great thing, and someday I look forward to introducing one of my own films in Santa Barbara.”
The S.B. African Heritage Film Series runs Saturday, February 23, at the Metro 4 (618 State St.) with screenings at 1, 2:45, 4:30, 6:30, 8, and 9:30 p.m. See sbahfs.org for the schedule.