In the 1970s, before digital filmmaking opened up opportunities to many new voices, long before all of the recent media attention of #OscarsSoWhite, before Ava Duvernay formed her revolutionary distribution company ARRAY (formerly AFFRM), and before Netflix provided a platform for Dear White People and Master of None and Sundance became a powerhouse festival showing films from diverse communities, there was a group of filmmakers at UCLA making movies not being told by the white Hollywood mainstream. Zeinabu irene Davis’ documentary Spirits of Rebellion tells the story of these filmmakers.
Davis herself was a student at UCLA at the tail end of the group that is now referred to as the L.A. Rebellion. After completing her narrative feature Compensation, a beautiful movie exploring the lives of two hearing-impaired women that premiered at Sundance in 1999, Davis shifted her focus to documentary filmmaking with Spirits. The film uses interviews and footage gathered from the various filmmakers interspersed with clips from their works to tell the story of the movement.
The UCLA film program provided a place for these filmmakers to meet one another, work with each other and develop as artists. The women and men coming out of the program understood film’s potential and went on to influence insular Hollywood as well as society at large. Davis dedicates the film to Tashome Gabriel, her mentor and the professor who inspired so many of the filmmakers that came out of the UCLA program (including Julie Dash, Charles Burnett, Haile Germia).
Many insights and poignant stories are woven throughout the film, including that of Jamaa Fanaka and his rise to fame and fight for justice in the Industry. A testament to the L.A. Rebellion, Fanaka was not satisfied with his own individual success, he fought for others – and paid a professional price for it.
Davis remarks in the documentary that as a UCLA filmmaker, “we listened with our cameras.” All film may be political but not all film challenges the way we see the world. The L.A. Rebellion filmmakers did and Spirits of Rebellion continues that legacy.
Visit Cinema Guild to acquire Spirits of Rebellion on disc or to arrange a digital site license. Follow Spirits of Rebellion on the film’s website, and follow Zeinabu irene Davis on Facebook, Twitter and UC San Diego Department of Communication website, and find out more about Davis on Wikipedia and Women Make Movies.
Jennifer works in post-production in television to support her film habit. She began studying female filmmakers as a graduate student at CUNY and is now working on a documentary project on the advocacy and history of women making movies in the United States from 1896 to the present.