For those who think that Melvin Van Peebles didn’t exist before Sweet Sweetback’s Baadasssss Song, he made 2 feature films before that seminal work.
This is one of them – an exploration of contrasting European and American attitudes towards race, in 1698’s The Story of a Three Day Pass.
Taking place in the 60’s, the film centers on an African American soldier stationed in Europe. His Captain gives him a promotion and a three-day pass to take the weekend off, because he thinks he’s such an exceptional black man. And over the course of the 3 days, Turner, the film’s protagonist, meets a white French woman, leading to a love affair between the two. However, racial prejudice and other complications, brings the affait to a halt.
Harry Baird and Nicole Berger star.
What is considered Van Peebles’ Nouvelle Vague (New Wave) film, it was based on a novel he wrote in French, La Permission. It was shot in 36 days on a budget of $200,000.
The use of fantasy sequences, jump cuts, freeze frames, photo-montage, and other experimental techniques, give the film an surreal/dream-like quality.
It was Van Peebles’ very first feature film, and, it was also the first feature-length film (on record) directed by an African American since Oscar Micheaux’s last film, 1948’s The Betrayal. So, from 1948 to 1967 (when Three-Day Pass was shot), a 21-year gap, there wasn’t a single feature-length, fictional scripted narrative film (on record) with an African American at the helm.
If anyone knows and can prove otherwise, please do so.
I know that William Greaves was working prior to 1968, but he only produced documentaries.
Before Van Peebles made Three-Day Pass, it’s said that he couldn’t get work in the film industry in the USA, so, like many other African American artists did in those days, he went to Europe (France, specifically), and directed his first feature (aka The Story Of A Three-Day Pass) in France, with French money.
Cue critical acclaim (both abroad and in the USA) after it was selected for the 1967 San Francisco Film Festival organized by Black film critic Albert Johnson, and eventually Van Peebles landed a job in Hollywood, and then he made his first and only studio film in 1970, Watermelon Man.
Here’s the trailer for The Story Of A Three-Day Pass (it’s incomplete, but there’s enough there to give you some idea of what it’s like). It’s on DVD: