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‘Cane River’: A Forgotten Black Director’s Only Film Resurfaces After Being Lost for 40 years

Oscilloscope Laboratories has acquired the restored film for a theatrical run to begin in February.

Peter Metoyer (Richard Romain) and Maria Mathis (Tommye Myrick) in Horace Jenkins' "Cane River," 1982

Peter Metoyer (Richard Romain) and Maria Mathis (Tommye Myrick) in Horace Jenkins’ “Cane River,” 1982

Oscilloscope/

Debuting in 1982, “Cane River” was an independent-film curio: a race and colorism-themed love story with an all-black cast, written and directed by a black filmmaker, financed by wealthy black backers. The filmmaker’s name was Horace B. Jenkins, who spent most of his career working in public television, and died of a heart attack at the age of 42, just a few months after “Cane River” premiered.

Largely financed by the Rhodes family of New Orleans (an African American family that has provided dignified burials for African Americans since the Civil War), “Cane River” was championed by Richard Pryor, but disappeared for decades after Jenkins’ sudden death.

It was mostly unknown until 2013, when an Academy Film Archive team selected the film’s original negative as part of a large group of materials brought from the vault of DuArt Film & Video.

After some preliminary research, including a discussion with the film’s editor Debi Moore, AFA curator Ed Carter determined that “Cane River” was worth preservation and re-evaluation.

The Film Archive then struck a new 35mm print, which later became the source of IndieCollect’s painstaking, 4K digital master. With Moore’s guidance, IndieCollect was able to trace the cast, crew, and heirs to learn more about director Horace Jenkins.

Oscilloscope Laboratories acquired North American rights to “Cane River,” and will open the pristine new print at the Brooklyn Academy of Music February 7, with a national rollout at select locations to follow.

A charming “Romeo & Juliet” love story, “Cane River” is set in Louisiana,in one of the first free communities of color. The young couple (Richard Romain and Tommye Myrick) confront class and color divisions that continue to roil America to this day. Its official synopsis reads: In this lyrical, visionary film, a budding, forbidden romance lays bare the tensions between two groups both descended from slaves but of disparate opportunity: the light-skinned, property-owning Creoles, and the darker-skinned, more disenfranchised families of the area.

The main cast also included Carol Sutton, Barbara Tasker, Ilunga Adell, and Lloyd La Cour.

Of the acquisition, Sacha Jenkins, Horace Jenkins’ son, said, “I have so much respect for O-Scope; their collective eye is impeccable, so to have Horace’s film released in partnership with them is a dream.”

Sacha is a filmmaker as well. His credits include directing the documentaries “Fresh Dressed “(2015), a fascinating chronicle of the history of fashion in hip-hop; and “Burn Motherfucker, Burn!” (2017), one of a handful of documentaries in recent years that explored the history of the relationship between African Americans and the LAPD, leading up to the OJ Simpson trial.

Oscilloscope’s Dan Berger said, “We couldn’t be more thrilled to have the opportunity to bring ‘Cane River’ to audiences. Better late than never. This is a complex and subtle film that has a lot to say and despite the nearly four decades that have passed since it was made, it is as relevant today as it was in 1982.”

Ahead of the restored film’s premiere at BAM on Feb 7th, IndieWire has the exclusive first look at its release trailer and poster below:

 

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