Much of Thomas Allen Harris’s film work has involved looking into his personal history, which was shaped by the absence of his father, childhood years spent in Tanzania, his gay identity, and a grandfather interested in photography. While the emotional resonance of his films may reside in his family stories, Harris opens up the possibility of political action and social change by placing them within larger community contexts. His films boldly move from pain to celebration, from the personal to the epic.
Harris’s most recent film, Through a Lens Darkly, constructs a counter history of photography in the United States, one that includes amateurs such as his grandfather, neighborhood studio photographers in black communities, and contemporary black artists. An unknown, fascinating history of the representation of African Americans emerges, refuting the identity created by mass media images. In Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela, Harris uses imaginative re-creations to document his South African father’s life and the early days of the African National Congress. In both films, he draws on a diverse array of imagery and interviews to create visually striking and insightful film essays. As A. O. Scott noted in the New York Times, “he is a wise and passionate guide.”
We are delighted that Harris will present his work at the PFA Theater, where he will be joined by Leigh Raiford in conversation following the screening of Through a Lens Darkly. Raiford is the author of Imprisoned in a Luminous Glare: Photography and the African American Freedom Struggle and coeditor of The Civil Rights Movement in American Memory; she is an associate professor in African American Studies at UC Berkeley.
Kathy Geritz, Film Curator