The 16th annual Black Harvest International Festival for Film and Video kicks off on Aug. 6. at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State. And the opening night is shaping up to be a star-studded affair.

Actor and rapper Common, a Chicago native, will be on hand to receive the Delores Jordan Award for Excellence in Community Leadership. NBC-5 new anchor LeeAnn Trotter will emcee the ceremony.

But beyond the glitz and glamour of opening night, the true stars of the festival, running from Aug. 6 through Sept. 2, are the filmmakers. This year’s fest showcases 42 films. Moviegoers won’t see such names as Spike Lee or Tyler Perry helming these pictures, though better known stars do appear and sometimes provide financial backing for them. For more than a decade, the festival has put the spotlight on independent movies and directors. And those filmmakers have introduced audiences to people and stories that don’t appear above Hollywood marquees.

Documentaries and short films, comedies and dramas are among the crop of selections shown at Black Harvest. Nearly half of the films at this year’s festival were produced and/or shot in Chicago.

Beverly Price, a Chicago television producer, debuts her documentary, “India of K Town.” India is a Chicago teen who grew up in a neighborhood nicknamed “K Town” – a part of North Lawndale from Pulaski to Cicero – where the north-south streets along that stretch start with the letter K.

India has a had hard life but gets a bit of notice when famed fashion designer Barbara Bates offers to make her prom dress. The 70-minute documentary shows the design process involved in making the dress, but also how friendship and mentoring blossom between the two ladies. Price is scheduled to be at both the Aug. 7 and Aug. 12 screenings for an audience discussion.

Filmmaker and Winnetka native Edward T. McDougal’s film “Dog Jack,” meanwhile, is adapted from the novel of the same name. The film centers around a runaway slave boy and his dog. After freeing his dog, the boy leaves the plantation to join the Union Army during the Civil War. Along the way, he encounters trials and tribulations, and a reconnection with his past the boy must deal with. The film and book are based on a true story of a canine that became a decorated mascot for a Union Army regimen. Following the Aug. 29 screening, McDougal and producers Don Albert and Benjamin Gardner, who also acted in the film, will take questions from the audience.

The documentary “Bevel’s Last Sermon,” debuting Aug. 11, features the last interview given by civil rights leader James Bevel, as he fought a losing battle with pancreatic cancer. Chicago area filmmaker and college instructor Seth McClellan directed the half-hour documentary, filming the last 10 days of Bevel’s life. A top aide to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Bevel died Dec. 19, 2008 at 72. McClellan also produced an earlier documentary entitled “King in Chicago.”

CONTACT: tdean@wjinc.com

If you go

  • The 16th annual Black Harvest International Festival of Film and Video
  • Screenings take place at the Gene Siskel Film Center, 164 N. State
  • For festival information, call 312-846-2600 or visit www.siskelfilmcenter.org/blackharvest2010