TIFF Cinematheque

Daughters of the Dust

Julie Dash

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A landmark in the history of American independent cinema, Julie Dash's masterpiece was the first American feature directed by an African American woman to receive a general theatrical release.

Truly classic movies don't get old. Their resonance and relevance endures and is further enriched by the passage of the years. To watch Julie Dash's Daughters of the Dust today, 25 years after its release, is to see a fi lm empowered by age, an artwork so ahead of its time that one's reflex is to ask why it wasn't even more heralded than it was — even though the systemic bias against work by female African-American directors supplies a clear answer.

But this year, the film is enjoying a revival. Beyoncé recently introduced it to popular consciousness in her groundbreaking video album Lemonade, which revisited the southern setting and distinctive fashion of Dash's film, referencing and in some cases specifically recreating its imagery. And now Daughters of the Dust is gloriously restored to 2K digital, ready to gain a new audience of admirers.

Set in 1902, the film focuses on an extended family of Gullah, descendants of African captives who escaped the slave trade to live on islands off the coast of South Carolina and Georgia. On the verge of moving the entire family to the American mainland, the many members of the Peazant clan clash over the meaning and implications of this crossing.

The first American feature directed by an African-American woman to receive a general theatrical release, Daughters of the Dust announced a formidable new filmmaking talent with its gorgeous interplay of symbolic markers, magical realist gestures, and mise en scène. (Arthur Jafa's masterful cinematography is given a luminous new canvas in this restoration.) It eloquently frames questions that have preoccupied many independent filmmakers of Dash's generation: the place of family and tradition in ameliorating historical wrongs, the hope of spiritual escape from a history of trauma, and the elusive possibility of finding deliverance together.

JESSE WENTE

Daughters of the Dust has been restored from the original film elements by Cohen Film Collection at Modern Videofilm in Burbank, CA. The colour grading was supervised by cinematographer Arthur Jafa and the final restoration approved by director Julie Dash. Special thanks to the UCLA Film & Television Archive.

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