This film program presents the birth of Gordon Parks’ moving-image career with three rarely screened documentaries made for public television broadcast. Like Parks’ renowned photographic essays for Life Magazine, these films focus on individuals and environments affected by a larger story. Flavio (1964), Diary of a Harlem Family (1968) and World of Piri Thomas (1968) explore the lives of individuals separated by location—Black Harlem, Brazil, and Spanish Harlem—but unified by their impoverished environments and struggles to survive for a better future. This series of Sunday afternoon screenings and talks exploring Parks’ legacy through his works in film is presented in conjunction with the exhibition Invisible Man: Gordon Parks and Ralph Ellison in Harlem at the Art Institute of Chicago, and was curated by Jacqueline Stewart (University of Chicago). Film prints courtesy of Chicago Film Archives.
Screening followed by discussion with Kamilah Rashied, Assistant Director of Community Programs at The Art Institute of Chicago.
DIARY OF A HARLEM FAMILY (1968, 20 min, 16mm)
A plea for poverty relief and equal opportunity, this photomontage film documents the life of the Fontinelli family who live in a Harlem tenement in New York City.
FLAVIO (1964, 11.5 min., 16mm)
A day in the life of a twelve-year old Brazilian boy named Flavio, one of a family of ten living on a squalid, impoverished hillside across the bay from Rio de Janeiro. Gordon Parks depicts the details, moods, and tensions that affect the boy who, though suffering from tuberculosis, keeps the house going and represents a possible hope to his family. Based on a 1961 Life Magazine series by Parks.
WORLD OF PIRI THOMAS
(1968, 60 min, 16mm)
Gordon Parks, along with writer and poet Piri Thomas, lead us on a journey through New York City’s Spanish Harlem. Parks guides our eyes through El Barrio, while Thomas reads from his best-selling memoir, “Down These Mean Streets.” These sights and sounds record the grim and crumbling life of the neighborhood and its inhabitants, but also provide a glimmer of hope for “survival and triumph over the ghetto.”