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DIARY OF AN AFRICAN NUN a film by JULIE DASH. 1977, USA. 15 min. A woman questions her faith in this early short by a groundbreaking Black female filmmaker.

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Made during her tenure at UCLA, Julie Dash’s Diary of an African Nun sees the young director fully in control of a poetic and political style whose influence would ripple across cinema. The early short from one of the most influential members of the diverse crowd of LA-centric filmmakers working throughout the ‘70s known as the LA Rebellion traces a cloistered nun’s wavering faith as she’s caught in a deep act of religious self-reflection.

 

Composed of stunning landscape shots, delicately singled close-ups and the eternal grace of Barbara O. Jones’ visage, Diary of an African Nun’s beautiful arrangement belies its bleaker themes. As the film maneuvers away from its peaceful opening into an extended moment of crisis in the loneliness of her quarters, the camerawork becomes enveloped in Jones’ unraveling. In pointed lyricism, Dash channels the tides of torment that keep the nun from sleeping soundly, producing an experience akin to prayer that swings between moments of bliss and doubt.

 

 

“What we have to say is so personal and so very different that there’s no way that anyone else can say it. They can’t say it for us and when they do, it’s more of an external condition made about us or about our condition. But when we say it, it’s very personal, and it’s very different.” JULIE DASH

 

In her quest to explore the “world of ways of shooting out there that we don’t even know about,” Dash’s films mark an intervention upon the conventions upheld by a longstanding history of white, male production. Circumventing timeworn narrative strategies, Diary of an African Nun’s unique stylings as a terse cine-poem open new horizons for politically committed, artfully effusive films that center female stories.

 

Born in Long Island, NY in 1952, Dash is widely acclaimed for her debut feature Daughters of the Dust, the first film by an African American female director to receive a general theatrical release. The film was later inducted into the Library of Congress’ National Film Registry in 2004. Influenced by the likes of Sara Gómez, Alice Walker and Toni Morrison, Dash’s elegant explorations of Black communities in America have inspired Ava DuVernay and Beyoncé; the latter noting Daughters of the Dust as a major influence on Lemonade. More recently, Dash has directed episodes for Queen Sugar and Women of the Movement.

 

Text written by Nicolas Pedrero-Setzer. Special thanks to Women Make Movies for making this screening possible.